Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 13

It was really only a matter of time before the search for Sylvia Meisner became more serious. Oh, not that folks haven’t been serious already, they are. They’re serious about a lot of things like taking care of all the visitors to Maple Valley that arrive, literally, by the trainload every day. They’re serious about making sure no one else in Maple Valley knows more about Sylvia than they do.

In spite of our many flaws, the folks in Maple Valley do really care about Sylvia and we wish her back. But with everything that has happened in town since she disappeared, I wonder what kind of place Sylvia would return to if she walked back into town today. There have been arguments with participants almost becoming physical. Rumors became gospel. Some close friends are distant because they don’t agree on what steps should be taken to bring Sylvia home. I don’t understand how they can argue about bringing her home when they don’t know where she is!

The Burthrap twins, Ver and Vee, were at it again yesterday, but this time Sheriff Terkinberry left them alone even though Nona Merthon called him four times while the twins were screaming at each other. Nona couldn’t tell the sheriff exactly what they were arguing about, she just assumed it was about Sylvia again. For all she knew, they might have been fighting about whose turn it was to do the dishes or clean the toilet.

Things have been pretty quiet at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe. Shorty and Hannah work very hard to keep up with all the patrons who come in on the Old General. It seems the first thing folks do is head for the cafe. Maple Valley has succeeded in creating a mystical sort of feeling that makes visitors want to stay, and staying always includes eating, or maybe just drinking coffee. I happen to believe Hannah Cloverton makes the best coffee anywhere in Kertok County.

The cafe is a favorite spot for townsfolk, too. It’s not very big, but then nothing in Maple Valley is. Except for the railroad. The cafe sits in the middle of town where it was built as a saloon in 1892. The saloon closed in 1907 and the Ya’ll Sit Cafe opened the following year. Shorty’s great grandfather, Morris Cloverton, was the first owner and cook. The Cloverton family has owned it ever since. The tables are square, seating four. There are three long tables with room for eight, and, oddly enough, those are the ones preferred by customers. The walls are a light blue, the curtains are red and white checkered. The floor is the original wood boards. The kitchen is not hidden in the back but is open for everyone to see. Shorty enjoys talking to patrons as he prepares their orders. Hannah waits on customers and pours coffee. A favorite among customers is Shorty’s pancakes and eggs breakfast. He doesn’t share his recipe with anyone. I eat breakfast at the cafe every Monday morning because it’s the best way to start the week.

You probably noticed Beulah Filden and Lulane Hilvertosh in the photo. The two seem to create trouble, or at least talk about trouble, wherever they go, and it’s not surprising they showed up at Sylvia Meisner’s house. (In case you don’t know, they’re the two are standing over on the left, and you can tell just by looking at them they’re gossiping. Beulah is wearing the red hat. Lulane is filling her ear to the brim.) Beulah hasn’t been seen outside much since she tried to pass a petition to postpone the start of tourist season. Maple Valley folks were pretty upset about that. Evidently, enough time has past so Lulane and Beulah are back to their old habits.

The news of the day and the reason so many people are standing around Sylvia’s house is Sheriff Terkinberry went to court in Kertok County for a search warrant so he could enter Sylvia’s home. While he would have preferred to keep that news quiet, search warrants are routinely published in the Kertok Weekly. The sheriff’s plan was known throughout Maple Valley before he had a chance to search the house. True to every characteristic of Maple Valley, folks were outside the house waiting to get the inside story before anyone else could.

Sheriff Terkinberry wasn’t surprised to find the front door of Sylvia’s house unlocked. Folks in Maple Valley don’t often lock their doors, but in this case the sheriff felt an intense concern. If Sylvia planned to be gone for a prolonged period of time, she certainly would not have left the door open. At first glance, nothing seemed to be out of order. Everything in the living room was undisturbed. A hardcover novel on a table caught the sheriff’s attention. He carefully picked up “Death Calls at Midnight,” by Shander Noffsin, and opened the front cover. Inside was written, “To Sylvia from your Special Friend.” “Who is the special friend?” the sheriff thought, “and why was the book signed that way? Does special mean ‘secret?’ Does special mean ‘admirer?’ Does Sylvia know who this special person is, or was he or she a mystery? And why capitalize special friend?” The thoughts racing through Terkinberry’s head only made his job more difficult.

He walked into the kitchen and his concern increased. In the sink were several knives. It appeared they had been used and washed, dried, but then left in the sink. A folded towel was lying nearby. The sheriff noticed a plant on the window sill was beginning to wilt and thought it strange the plant was still alive when Sylvia has been missing for a month. He looked back into the living room and noticed another plant in the same condition. Still alive.

A feeling of dread crept over his body as the sheriff opened the refrigerator. He knew the contents would clearly reveal Sylvia’s intentions when she left home the last time. Inside was an unopened container of milk, some fruit, a small jar of jelly, and something very strange. Lying on the bottom shelf was what appeared to be a fresh rose, with a note beside it. “To Sylvia from your Special Friend.” The dread the sheriff felt was turning to full alarm.

Sheriff Terkinberry climbed the stairs to examine the bedrooms. One bed was neatly made but with no pillows. The other bed was made but several pillows were piled up. He assumed, because of other furniture in the room the first was the main bedroom. Why did Sylvia have so many pillows piled up in the second bedroom?

The bathroom produced even more questions. The medicine cabinet was completely empty, which calmed the sheriff a little because Sylvia would have taken most of the items if she was going on a planned trip. The bathtub, however, caused more questions. It was filthy. It looked as if someone bathed a dog with a terrible shedding problem. He couldn’t explain it.

The place he dreaded the most was saved for last. Swallowed by the dark and wet basement, he stumbled over something as he tried to find the light. This was the first time since becoming sheriff Pete Terkinberry wished he had chosen another job.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 12

In case you haven’t been following the news in Maple Valley on a regular basis, I will fill you in. Sylvia Meisner disappeared nearly a month ago. Several people saw and spoke to her one day, she was gone the next. In fact, figuring out who the last person to speak to Sylvia actually was became a hot item of contention, sadly enough. Folks in Maple Valley always like to find a way into the spotlight. We are bothered by not being included.

In the photo, you can see what was left of her car. It was discovered under three tower bridge by two people who happened to be jogging by. They reported the car to Sheriff Pete Terkinberry who started an investigation and quickly confirmed it was Sylvia Meisner’s car. The sheriff demanded the car be left at the site to protect all the evidence, but he soon realized there wasn’t any. The wreck was finally taken to a garage where it was dismantled. Every piece of the car was examined, and nothing of any use to the investigation was found. The car was torched completely.

Who put the car under three tower bridge? No answers. Where was the car burned? It seems obvious the fire was not under the bridge because there are no burns on the timbers. And no one saw the fire even though the bridge is very close to Maple Valley. The car was wrecked and burned somewhere else. Was the driver Sylvia? If so, where is she? Did someone steal her car, wreck then burn it to cover evidence, then move the car to the bridge? That is a lot of difficult work when they could have left the car where it was destroyed. It makes no sense, unless there is some kind of message we are supposed to figure out. I don’t know. No one else does, either. At least, that’s the way it seems.

If you walk by three tower bridge today, this is what you’ll see. Everything seems normal again. Appearances are deceiving. I don’t think anything in Maple Valley will be normal again. How can someone everybody knows disappear without a trace? Neighbors are going back to normal things and I’m afraid they’re going to forget.

Sylvia is a nice person. She was, is, or was neighborly. That’s what I mean. Even I am getting caught saying things like, “She was neighborly.” I don’t know if she is a was, or still is. It’s tough. She’s gone, but maybe she’s just gone for a while. Who knows? She made, or is making her own mark on Maple Valley. She is a talented artist, or is at least someone others might call an artist. She painted signs for businesses. They’re very colorful and attractive. The problem to some people is that the signs are for businesses that don’t exist. She painted and placed them in spots around town where they would be seen. Why would someone do that?

An odd thing happened today. People gathered where the car was found under three tower bridge, and the Reverend Shermer from Maple Valley Church said a few words. He is the one in the photo nearest the bridge tower. He asked for a time of silence so people could think about Sylvia and ask for her safe return. Then folks met at Sylvia’s house and did the same thing. Not everyone goes to church in Maple Valley, and there were people at the two gatherings who don’t attend Maple Valley Church. I suppose that’s a good thing, unless they were just there to watch.

There is still talk around town about having a psychic come in to try to find Sylvia. How would the sheriff decide which psychic to use? Would he have psychic auditions? There are lots of psychics around like palm readers, but who knows whether they could really help? Would the town council have to pay the psychic? Does the person get paid even if they can’t find Sylvia and she doesn’t return? I don’t know what to think of that idea.

On the brighter side of Maple Valley, the Annual Founder’s Day Celebration is just a week away. This is an important event in Maple Valley and has been celebrated ever since the first settlers came to the valley. At least that’s what the oldest residents of Maple Valley say.

Like the Independence Day Celebration and the start of tourist season in Maple Valley, lots of exciting attractions will keep everyone busy for the entire day. The highlight of the day will be the mincemeat pie eating contest in the middle of town, followed by the annual west side vs east side badminton game. Everyone who lives on the west side of 2nd Street is Team West, everyone living on the east side is Team East.

Plenty of first-aid supplies will be on hand with those who have volunteered to treat everyone who is injured during the badminton game. Maple Valley folks are serious about this game because of the bragging rights it gives to the winners. Everyone who wants to play is on the team, and everyone is on the court at the same time. Last year there were twenty-seven players on Team West, thirty-two on Team East. Several injuries occurred, the most serious being a gash suffered by Homer Gawlmand when Minnie Surrifin hit him in the face with her racket. Other minor injuries like welts on the head from being whacked by a racket are to be expected when close to sixty people are playing badminton on one court, all trying to keep six birdies in the air at the same time. It’s a favorite in Maple Valley!

Tourist season is off to a great start. So far, there haven’t been any issues with the Old General. Six round trips per day is a lot to ask from a steam locomotive that was built in the 1800s, but the Old General’s performance has made everyone proud. I even sneak a ride in the engine as often as I can. One of these days I’m going to sit in the engineer’s chair and take the throttle. That will be an exciting day in Maple Valley.

How I Painted Backdrops for My Model Railroad – Part 2

I can’t stress enough that you can do this. Believe me, if I can paint backdrops and have them turn out half-way decent, you can do it too.

In Part 1, I included a list of the paint colors most often used for painting backdrops. All of the paint is acrylic, which cleans up easily with water. When you start painting your backdrops, you will start by using light colors on the highest parts of your canvas (whatever your canvas material may be. I chose to use foam board.)

Obviously, not being an artist, I’m not including mixtures that will give you exact shades of colors for your backdrops. With me, it was trial and error. If you are an artist I don’t think you’ll be spending time reading this anyway.

In the photos you can see the mountainous look beginning to take shape. I used a mixture of blue and grey to paint mountains furthest away, the lightest blue is sky. The light shade of green below the blue is the first layer indicating the next mountain range.

The beautiful thing about painting in layers is that you can really mess up the first layer, (like I did many times fighting with my shaking hands), and totally fix and change it with the next layer. You don’t want perfect tree tops anyway. To me, a great amount of variation is best, just like you would see in a real photo or in person. Let your brush go and find your way as you dab the paint on.

I allowed each layer to dry before starting the next layer. If you lay wet paint on wet paint, the colors will begin to mix on the canvas and on your brush. Maybe that will work for you, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

With each layer of tree-covered mountains, the colors get darker, indicating the mountains are closer. In the middle photo is the beginning of a river, indicated by the white curved triangle, giving the appearance of the river coming toward you.

I definitely made mistakes, but was able to manage them pretty well. In the photo on the left, there is a light area that doesn’t look great, but I can live with it. I also left some large grassy-appearing areas in the foreground that I will make smaller by placing 3D trees on the layout in front of them. Placing trees on the layout is my next big project.

The section of backdrop in the photo on the left is my first attempt. It’s not great, and I changed it a little by painting pine trees in that appear closer, and adding rocks at the bottom. This one will again be doctored by placing trees and foliage in front of it. This one is on the right end of the layout, so it isn’t in a prominent spot. I’m happy with the other backdrops, and to me, there is an illusion of distance to the horizon. Structures, trees, and ground cover will blend the contrast between the rocky areas and the green backdrops.

Shading is an important part of painting backdrops. In any scene, whether in a photograph or a painting of landscapes, there is a source of light so there are light and shaded areas. As you can see on the painted pines, the left side is lighter, indicating light coming from the left. It also appears to give the tree a rounded shape. I used a small paint brush to blot the pine trees into existence. The individual pine trees in the center photo were made with a fan brush. The important thing to remember about indicating a light source is that it must be consistent throughout your backdrop paintings. You don’t want some areas appearing as if the sun is on the left, and others on the right.

Including roads and rivers in a backdrop is another challenge because, somehow, you have to make them appear they are coming toward you. This is accomplished by the use of a magical vanishing point. Perspective in drawing or painting is how objects are made to appear closer or more distant and still remain in proper size relation with each other. A road, for example, seems to disappear at the vanishing point, (which is why it’s called a vanishing point!), and comes toward you where it is widest, closest to you. You are looking at a flat painting, yet you see a road or river coming toward you. Magic!

I used perspective to paint a small cabin and a shed on the backdrop section in the left and center photos. The shed is smaller than the cabin. Vanishing points and shades of color were used on both structures, so instead of looking like flat squares, they appear to be 3D structures. Painting a curved road is a little tricky. You’re still moving it toward the vanishing point but adding a curve while still creating the illusion of distance away from you.

I didn’t want the Maple Valley river to end at the backdrop, so I had to paint the river, allowing it to vanish somewhere in the distance. For a rank amateur, I think it turned out pretty well! The wooden bridge nearest the backdrop will be a road connecting industries on either side of the river.

When all the painting was finished, the foam boards curved as a result of the paint drying and constricting. Ughhh! I didn’t want to just glue them on the wall because I was afraid they would come loose. So, lacking any other solution, I held each foam board, painted/curved toward me, put pressure on the back side and pushed until the foam board buckled. I did that about every two inches the entire length of the board. Result? The foam board was straight and the paint did not crack, miraculously. I was at the point of either total disaster, or breakthrough results. Luckily, the end result was great. I used hot glue to fasten the foam boards to the cinder block wall, and they are secured tightly.

Finally, as I mentioned in Part 1, there are several YouTube videos demonstrating backdrop painting that were very helpful. I am including a list, and I encourage you to watch them if you are considering painting your own backdrops.

How To Paint Model Railroad Backdrops with Rob Spangler – YouTube

Model Railroad Adventures with Bill E103 – The Joys of Painting (A Backdrop 😄) by Request – YouTube

Painting a Model Railroad Backdrop – YouTube

Learn How to Paint Mountains – Acrylic Painting Lesson by JM Lisondra – YouTube

Paint Basic Rocks by Stream – YouTube (I watched this one over and over again!)

If you search “Painting Model Railroad Backdrops” you will find dozens of examples.

I wish you luck in your efforts to paint your own model railroad backdrops!

How I Painted Backdrops for My Model Railroad – Part 1

First, let’s get this straight. I am not an artist (and maybe you’ll agree when you look carefully at the photos of my backdrops.) The only time I have ever taken an art class was in the 7th grade. Mr. Nagle gave me good grades for my drawings but my interest in art didn’t grow. I have an uncle who is an incredible artist and taught art for many years. Our daughter is a gifted artist, and also teaches art. The talent skipped a generation.

My HO scale model railroad, The Maple Valley Short Line, is the most detailed layout I have ever created. It’s also the largest. The layout is shelf-style, twenty-one feet long, three feet wide in the middle sections, four feet-seven inches on the ends. The layout is still a long way from completion and I have already been working on it for three years. This layout includes my first attempt at painting backdrops.

The walls of my train room are cinder-block. I first painted the walls white, thinking that would probably be enough, as I did the same thing in my last train room. As my layout progressed, I realized I wasn’t going to be satisfied with white walls as a backdrop. Our daughter offered to paint the backdrops for me, but I was determined to do it myself. If it turned out terrible, I would live with it, somehow. If it turned out great, then so be it.

I first considered painting directly on the walls, but decided the mortar seams between the blocks would be too obvious. So, my next task was deciding what kind of material to use as a canvas. I bought poster-size thick paper but my daughter said it would buckle. I decided to use foam-board. I had no idea how foam board would respond to acrylic paint, but I knew I didn’t want to mess with oils.

I didn’t trust my artistic imagination enough to come up with convincing mountain scenes, so I went to the single greatest source of everything you can possibly need. Google. Since my layout has a rocky/mountainous landscape, I used photos of the Smoky Mountains as my examples to paint. I was not surprised there are innumerable pics of mountains on Google, but I wanted a particular look with mountain ranges close up and miles away. I found fifteen, or so, pictures I was happy with and used them as my inspiration.

I first tried laying paper over my computer screen and tracing the outline of the mountains. That idea didn’t last long. I was left with freehand sketching, which is what I was most afraid of, and for good reason. I have battled with essential tremors for many years, and they seem to be getting worse. I’m left handed, but had to teach myself to be right-handed. I was not at all certain I could do anything more than make a mess, painting with my right hand. Through a combination of left and right-hand painting, I was able to get the job done. Some trees look better with my left hand, others look better with my right. I don’t know.

A great decision I made was cutting the foam board to follow the outline of the most distant mountain range, leaving enough space to paint sky above it. To get the desired effect, I had to be sure the outlines of the mountains were NOT consistent with each other. For the right effect, there has to be an appearance of distance between the mountains, which is accomplished by the shades and darkness of the paint colors. Lightest colors are the most distant mountains, darkest are the closest. Tree detail is most visible close-up, detail fades as distance increases.

How did I learn all of this? Through the miracle of YouTube! You can learn almost anything on YouTube! I watched many videos of people painting backdrops. (I have to say, however, there are many unhelpful videos in which the person spends most of the time talking rather than demonstrating. And still other videos are more an example of how not to be a comedian than how to paint a backdrop.) Enough complaining.

In the videos I learned there are several colors consistently used for backdrops. Raw Umber, Permanent Black, Cerulean Blue, Hookers Green, Raw Sienna, Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, and Matte Fluid Medium, which is used to thin and make the paint go farther. You will also use several plastic containers with lids, and several different kinds of paint brushes.

The secret to painting great backdrops is believing you can do it, then working with the colors until the mixtures are exactly what you want. Be patient, don’t try to paint too much at one time. Give the layers plenty of time to dry. Keep the vision of what your layout will look like in front of you.

In the next post, I will include the details of how to paint in layers and how to make distance come alive in your backdrops.

Five Easy Steps to Making Perfect Curves on Your Model Railroad Using HO Scale Flex-Track

I don’t know anything more frustrating than having a beautiful model railroad but not being able to keep train cars on the track long enough to enjoy it. Face it, you can have glorious scenery with incredible detail down to the smallest blade of grass. Your livestock looks like it could stampede at any moment. Your factory workers almost move by themselves, in fact, you had to look twice because you were sure one of them just stepped outside for a breath of fresh air! Your signals are all up and running. Crossing gates work flawlessly. Your street and building lights add a glow to night operations that leave you speechless. Your grades are a perfect two percent and your locomotives have no problem, when they stay on the track, that is.

Nothing is more important on your HO scale model railroad than perfect curves. If you can’t move trains through your curves over and over again without any problems, you are going to spend a lot of angry moments just staring. There are ways to lay flex-track, and then there are fool-proof ways to lay flex-track for perfect curves.

If you are one of those ultra-serious model railroaders who use tie strips (or individual basswood ties – ultra-ultra-serious), and bundles of rails you fasten with scale spikes, I salute you, you are worthy of much honor for maintaining the foundations of model railroading. I can’t imagine going through that, I’m too impatient, and I would be even more concerned about inconsistencies leading to derailments. On the other hand are those who use pre-fab track sections with the plastic ballast. While pre-packaged track sections are great for quick set-up on the floor or under the Christmas tree, I wouldn’t recommend it for a permanent layout. No disrespect intended, honest. (If you used this kind of track on your layout, I would love to hear about it!)

I am a life-long flex-track user. The Atlas Company has made it super easy to lay beautiful track sections three feet at a time. If you are unfamiliar, the track sections are exactly what the name implies. If you pick up a three-foot piece you will immediately understand. It’s like holding one of those plastic snakes from the county fair that wiggle all over, but that is the key to its effectiveness. Looking on the backside, you will see one side of the tie strip is secure the entire length of the piece. The other side is secured two ties at a time. That’s where the flexibility comes from. It also makes laying perfect curves a sure thing, if you know how to do it.

STEP ONE. Obviously, you’re going to need a completed track plan before you start laying flex-track. My twenty-one foot layout has two long loops for continuous two-train operation. My outside line contains a 2% grade from base level to four inches, which requires sixteen feet of track. The line continues over Three Tower Bridge at Maple Valley, across the river at Maple Valley Trestle, then begins the downward grade at 2%, finally reaching the east side of the layout. The two lines wind around, the inner loop crossing under the upper loop through two mountain tunnels.

STEP TWO. Make sure your curve radius is consistent throughout the curve. When my track plan was completed and 1 1/2 inch extruded foam secure, I used foam board to make curve templates that were the exact radius I needed. I cut the foam pieces the exact width of the HO scale cork roadbed. I then lay the foam board piece, (the outer loop is a 26-inch radius), marked along the edges with a Sharpie pen, then moved the foam board to the next section and continued marking until the entire curve was complete. I always start by marking all the curves first, then it’s easy to mark the rest of the layout.

STEP THREE. Glue your cork roadbed in place. I follow the two marks I made in STEP TWO, “paint” white glue inside the lines on the foam base, then pin the cork roadbed in place and weight it down.

STEP FOUR. Repeat this after me: “Kinks are my enemy. Kinks are my enemy. Kinks are my enemy” If you do not imprint that phrase on your brain and cling to it during your entire track-laying process, you are going to have problems that will be tough to fix once your track is in place. Rail ends must meet perfectly on curves (and everywhere else for that matter!) If you start feeling frustrated, stop! If you’re tired, stop! Don’t risk smooth operation later by hurrying now!

This is important, so follow carefully. Make sure the flex-track moveable rail remains consistent throughout. (The moveable rail is the one with the broken tie-connection on the back. Just pull on the rail, you’ll see it moves easily. Make sure that rail is on the outside of your curves throughout your layout. Lay a new piece of flex-track on your curve and mark the beginning and end of the piece with a Sharpie. Remove the track and paint the cork with white glue. Replace the flex-track, pin, and weight. If you keep the moveable rail on the outside of the curve, you notice it is now shorter than the non-moving inside rail. That’s perfect! STOP! It’s important that your first piece of flex-track is solid and the glue has dried. Then you will be ready to move on and finish your curve.

STEP FIVE. This is the most important step, and the one easiest to get wrong. I know from experience! Turn a new piece of flex-track over. Carefully remove eight ties by cutting the plastic holding the ties in place. DO NOT CUT THE RAILS! LEAVING THEM EXTENDING PAST THE TIES. On your flex-track already glued in place, your moveable rail is shorter than the inner rail. Using a Dremel tool with a sanding disk attached, carefully cut the inner stationary rail so that there are about five ties separating the ends of the inner and outer rail. Using a pair of needle-nose pliers, very carefully, and while holding the ties in place, pull the small piece of stationary rail out the end. Now lay your new piece of track over the glued piece and note where the ends meet. You will remove one “spike” (the small plastic flange holding the rail in place on the tie) on either side of the rail ends. If you use the Dremel tool this is a very easy job. (I used to use an X-Acto knife and it was a pain!)

STEP SIX. Place a nickel-silver rail joiner on the end of a small piece of rail. Now slide the rail joiner onto the end of the rail on the glued flex-track. Repeat for the other rail. Now, very carefully, thread the rails of the new track through the plastic spikes on the glued track until the rail ends meet in the rail joiners. Pin the new piece of flex-track in place, using the center of the cork roadbed pieces as a guide. Now, using (and this is NEW! I just started using this!) Beacon 3-in-1 Advanced Craft Glue, lay a bead of glue along every-other tie between the rails. Now place weights on the track, and let it dry thoroughly.

I discovered the Beacon 3-in-1 Glue when I was trying to think of a way to keep from removing the new flex-track curve piece to glue and then replace it. Every time you move or remove a piece of track it’s another opportunity for something to go wrong. Beacon 3-in-1 Glue has a needle-nose tip so it’s perfect for gluing track in place, and it dries fast!

There you have it, model railroading friends! This is a sure-fire way to lay perfect curves using Atlas flex-track on your HO scale model railroad. You’ll be so glad you did it right the first time. You don’t want your railroading operations in front of spectators interrupted by derailments! It’s so embarrassing! Happy railroading everyone!

Cottage Outfitters Expands!

In Caseville, Michigan, there is a shop that is the place to go when you’re in town. Caseville is a popular vacation spot drawing people from all over the Midwest for camping, boating, fishing, swimming and doing all the other things that define a great summer.

Just like many other lakeside towns, Caseville has a few stores that have all of the things you would expect, like Caseville shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses, coasters and painted driftwood, all manufactured in foreign countries. There are several good restaurants. My favorite is Walt’s Restaurant where we often go. Their breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast made with homemade bread is unbeatable. Walt’s happens to be right next door to the special place I’m bringing to your attention.

Cottage Outfitters, in my opinion, is the one destination you have to include in your trip to Caseville, no matter how many times you’ve been here before. There is always something new to see.

Owner, Jonathan Bibby, is incredibly gifted at staging in such a way that your attention is captured many times as you walk through the store. Cottage Outfitters offers some beautiful antique furniture pieces, decorative items that will be perfect for your home or cottage, and even has some kitchen items. Homemade edibles like jams and pastries are also available.

Included among the displays at Cottage Outfitters are many items offered on consignment. You will not, however, have the feeling as you walk through the store that you have entered another booth operated by different vendor. Jonathan arranges the entire store masterfully so that all items flow together and make it easy for you to find just the items you’re looking for.

If you’re one of those people who use the term “cozy,” than you will immediately understand what it’s like to visit Cottage Outfitters. Many times I have walked through the store and thought, “I would just like to sit here with a cup of coffee and enjoy the surroundings.” It’s that kind of place.

Especially exciting for fans of Cottage Outfitters is the store has doubled in size. Jonathan Bibby acquired the storefront next to the original store and expanded his floorspace. There is much more to see and a much wider space to enjoy.

Be sure to visit Cottage Outfitters in Caseville, Michigan, during your summer travels. Oh, and be sure to have a cup of coffee in your hand so you can stop and sit for a while.

Scandal At Maple Valley Episode 11

Quintin O’Dillmotte’s alarm clock screams at 4:30 a.m. He wants to be the first one up, the first one on the streets, making sure everything is ready for the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration. He is very proud to be the chairperson of the planning committee for this great event. Overcoming the crape paper disaster of last year has been no small feat. Plenty of people are very happy to remind him what a horrible idea it was to string crape paper over the entire town. No one remembers that until it started to rain, everyone thought the colorful decorations were beautiful. And no one recalls that not a single person said, “Hey, what if it rains? What will happen to the crape paper?”

This year Quintin has taken a step further to make sure everyone knows how crucial he is to the success of the celebration. He printed thousands of fliers with his name and portrait on the front. No one will miss “Quintin O’Dillmotte, Chair of the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration Committee.” On the back is a list of all his accomplishments this year. At the bottom is a phone number where folks can call to tell Quintin what a great job he did and how they look forward to him continuing as the chairperson for next year’s Independence Day Celebration. I actually think Quintin is preparing to run for mayor in next year’s election.

I do have to admit, the Independence Day Celebration actually was an incredible success. Reverend Shermer’s message, “Finding Your Mirror-Self,” was exactly seventeen minutes long for which the weekly collection may have been a little more than usual. The attendees were out on the street for the parade in plenty of time. There was a slight problem with the loud speaker for master bird-caller Derwood Finster. They couldn’t keep the generator running on the trailer. Someone found a bullhorn for Finster to use so he held it up to his mouth while doing his bird calls. There was also a problem with the bullhorn and it sometimes let out this screeching siren sound that scared Finster half to death. It was impossible to hear the Happy Harmonettes as they sang in the back of a pickup truck, so no harm done there. The Walking Band played one song called, “March With Joy,” over and over. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

To everyone’s surprise, especially Quintin O’Dillmottee’s, WREK-TV showed up with their camera to film the parade. News anchor, Marty Kue, did a live interview with Quintin on the flatbed trailer Derwood Finster used. I’m quite sure O’Dillmotte has never been on TV before. He kept looking at the camera but he only talked when he was looking at Marty Kue. So Kue kept trying to coax Quintin to only look at him. It was pretty funny.

Mayor Thrashborn gave a rousing rendition of his annual speech, “We Are Maple Valley.” It was quite inspiring, and everyone clapped for two minutes when he was finished. It might have been better if WREK-TV had broadcasted the mayor’s speech instead of the interview with Quintin O’Dillmotte.

The parade ended at the corner of Maple and Railroad Streets as planned. Marge Quaffy’s prune-banana-blueberry-nut muffins were quickly sold out as they are every year. You might think she would make more than the previous year, but she always makes the same number. Maybe Marge doesn’t understand how business works.

The Old General made six trips to and from Maple Valley throughout the day, and each time it was filled to capacity. Visitors walked along the streets of Maple Valley, went into each of the shops, saw all the houses where residents live, and all wished they could live here too. In fact, I overheard a couple walking along together and one said, “I really love this little town, it’s so cozy! Wouldn’t it be fun to live here?!” I thought to myself, “Yup, just like I said. Maple Valley is the kind of place you want to stay if you’re ever here.”

Maybe the biggest winners of the day were Shorty and Hannah Cloverton, owners of “Ya’ll Sit Cafe.” They were busy all day long, and there were people waiting in line outside almost the entire time. Hannah’s hash, scrambled eggs, bacon and toast made with her amazing homemade bread were a favorite. Shorty said he must have poured a thousand cups of coffee. The Ya’ll Sit Cafe is the only restaurant in town so folks always plan to stop in when they visit Maple Valley.

I have always loved Maple Valley and I was reminded again today how special it is to live here. I know I take it for granted.

The one person who was absent today was probably only missed, if they happened to think about him, by the ones who live here. Sheriff Terkinberry is consumed by his desire to find Sylvia Meisner. All the work the detectives did on the car revealed nothing. They were right, however, that the car was purposely torched in several places, almost as if the one who did it was making sure no finger prints could every be found. The door handles were all severely damaged. The trunk latch was gone. The entire inside of the trunk was burned to the point of metal beginning to melt, which would require a very high temperature. It’s hard to explain. It seems the more the sheriff tries to discover answers, the more distant they become.

The happiness felt today by almost everyone visiting Maple Valley was different than what residents felt. No matter how excited we may be about events we experience each year, this one is different. Sylvia is still missing.

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 10

The last train out of Maple Valley left the center of town at 9:00 p.m. Many visitors stayed all day to help us celebrate the start of tourist season. We expect all of the trains to be full today and all available tickets tomorrow are gone. Two big celebrations within three days means a tremendous amount of work, but everyone in Maple Valley joins together to make each event the best it can be.

The Independence Day Celebration is ready to go. Mayor Thrashborn will deliver his annual “We Are Maple Valley” speech at noon. Last year a record crowd of forty-seven gathered near Brindel’s Hardware to hear the speech. Unlike the year before, no one was heard to comment the speech was too long.

Brindel’s Hardware has been a fixture in Maple Valley since the late 1800s. The front window is still the original glass. The paint has faded noticeably, but Garvin Brindel wants to leave it until it’s completely unreadable. His great-great grandfather, Herschel Brindel actually painted the lettering himself. It reads, “Brindel’s Hardware – For Things You Want and Might Need.”

Herschel Brindel had quite a reputation among the old-timers of Maple Valley. He was one of the founders and quickly established himself as leader. He also established himself as a scoundrel in business and with the ladies. There was talk he was carrying on with Gladenia Wickers, who was the wife of the first reverend of Maple Valley Church. The way church ladies dressed in those days in long black dresses that swept the floor, sleeves tight at the wrist, snug collars, it’s hard to imagine how anything happened, if it did. But that’s the point of imagination, it’s always better than the real thing. It’s the old-timers in Maple Valley that keep the old stories going. In fact, the stories have become a draw for tourists because the old guys will sit on the porches and talk to anyone who will stop long enough to listen. It’s been a long time since I sat on the porch with them, but I’m sure the stories have developed a life of their own while leaving the real truth in the dust long ago.

Another scoundrel I might as well mention now to get it out of the way, is Clem Yaminder. He too has family reaching back to the founding of Maple Valley, but his reputation as a scoundrel is more recent. It’s been fourteen years since Forner’s Drugstore burned to the ground. Clem Yaminder owns “Clem’s Stuff,” next to where the drugstore used to be. It was no secret that Clem Yaminder and Gorlyn Forner didn’t like each other. In the twenty years preceeding the fire, Clem and Gorlyn were involved in court proceedings against each other five times. Each time, the cases were dismissed by the visiting circuit judge. The last time an argument happened between Clem and Gorlyn, Clem was overheard saying, “I’m going to burn his place to the ground.” Seems pretty obvious. When the store burst into flames, everyone looked at Clem but nothing ever happened. Gorlyn Forner passed away two years later. Arleta Forner still lives here in Maple Valley. She stays away from Clem Yaminder and still believes he started the fire.

In spite of our scoundrels both past and present, Maple Valley is one of those places where you want to stay if you’re ever here. It’s the kind of town where you walk around and think, “I could live here.” As you visit the little stores you think about changes you could make so it would be possible for you to move to Maple Valley. “I could work in one of these stores, or maybe I could get hired on the maintenance crew for the General.” While you’re sipping coffee in the “Ya’ll Sit Cafe,” listening to the chatter of the townsfolk talking about their grocery lists, egg-plant-zucchini bread they made, plans to visit grandparents, you think about staying. It’s just that kind of place. The coffee tastes better, the treats taste sweeter, the lunches are more delicious than anywhere else and you think, “I could live here.”

The remarkable thing about tourist season is the number of people who come year after year. As seasons pass, grandparents bring grandchildren so they can experience the wonderful place that is Maple Valley. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to grow up and live here enjoy hearing the comments visitors make about how much fun it is to be here. Sometimes I wonder if there is something we’re missing. Are visitors feeling something we don’t feel anymore? Are they sensing something we’ve grown so accustomed to we’re now unaware of it? I hope not. I try to remind myself just how special Maple Valley is and how lucky we are to live here.

No one loves the Old General more than I do, but I have to admit there are times I hear it heading for town and I don’t go running outside to see it. I remember walking hand-in-hand with my parents to see the General time after time. They always said, “Don’t forget this, dear. The Old General is part of who we are here in Maple Valley. Don’t ever forget that.” I remind myself often but I still am too busy to remember like I know my parents wanted me to.

I’m afraid we’re starting to forget about Sylvia. I don’t hear people on the streets talking about her anymore. Her car isn’t under three tower bridge anymore, and now that the car is just large and small pieces on a garage floor, it’s hard to imagine it as an actual car. Let alone a car that belonged to someone who is now gone. Maybe not gone, but just missing. I hope she’s just missing and will be back soon.

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 9

Quintin O’Dillmotte has been working very hard to bring our town to complete readiness in anticipation of the Maple Valley Independence Day Celebration. Erasing all potential reminders of the crape paper disaster of last year is more important to him than planning for this year. So far, talk about a repeat has been minimal.

Everyone is looking forward to the parade that begins at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning. One of the main attractions every year is the Maple Valley Walking Band, directed by Mileta Kottser. She is the director because the idea of creating the band was hers. Maple Valley doesn’t have a school band, so Mileta thought she could start one. Mileta doesn’t actually play an instrument but everyone else does. The nine-member walking band is always looking for new members.

The Retired Equine Services Organization had to withdraw from the parade this year because two of the remaining three riders are ill. Of course, the Happy Harmonettes, the quartet of eighty-year-old women who have been trying to sing together since high school will be moved up in the procession because of the missing horses.

Probably the most anticipated feature in the parade this year is special guest, Derwood Finster, the master bird-caller. Quintin was able to acquire a trailer and a loud-speaker so everyone along the parade route will be able to hear Derwood Finster’s bird calls. The only challenge is the noise from the generator required to give power to the loud-speaker. It should be alright.

Bird calling is very popular in Maple Valley. Unfortunately, the Winged Callers Club lost its charter last year because of dues that were left unpaid to the Regional Association of Birdcall Clubs. The club met weekly at the old trader’s barn and after a brief business meeting, the members went out into the valley to call birds. Stan Munshim was the treasurer of the club, Emil Leverdom was the president. Both still enjoy calling birds, neither of them is very good at it.

The Independence Day Celebration landing on Sunday this year has required an additional level of responsibility for O’Dillmotte and his committee. The Reverend Shermer, pastor of Maple Valley Church, expects everyone to be in attendance at service before the parade. The service is usually at 11:15, but the Reverend is sure folks will not come to service after the parade, so he moved it to 8:15, just for this special day. Maple Valley Church is the only one in town so the ones who go to church go there. The Reverend expects Quintin to persuade everyone in Maple Valley to attend services before the parade.

The parade will begin at the end of Maple Street, move along to First Street, turn left and go to the end of the street and turn left again. Finally, turning left on Railroad Street the parade will continue until it reaches Maple Street again where it will end. Once the parade has moved past people sitting along the route, they will gather at the intersection of Maple and Railroad, to congratulate everyone and tell them what a fine job they did in the parade.

The end of the parade route is also where the community vendors gather to sell their homemade baked goods and handicrafts. Marge Quaffy’s prune-banana-blueberry-nut muffins with goat-milk cream frosting is a favorite to everyone. She spends two days before the parade making the muffins with her two granddaughters, Susan and Sandy.

This is an exciting time in Maple Valley. Today is the beginning of tourist season, which almost went unnoticed except for the crowds of people who came into town on The Old General this morning. All the stores were ready and waiting for happy visitors. Many people just walk along the streets of Maple Valley and don’t buy anything at all. They enjoy seeing the old buildings and walking on the wooden porches.

In spite of the scandal swirling in Maple Valley, Anabel Wizzleby was finally able to get enough choir members together to practice her original musical score. Anabel spent the entire off-season working on her song, “My Maple Valley, You’re Really Something.” Her greatest challenge was coming up with a word that even remotely rhymes with “something.” As it turns out, the crowd was so noisy after getting off the General, no one could hear the words of the song anyway. Anabel smiled proudly and the choir took a bow. Everyone knew the song was over and they clapped.

Sheriff Terkinberry has been absent from most of the proceedings so far. He is very busy with the detectives working diligently to find something, anything, on what is left of Sylvia Meisner’s car. They took the car to Fillton’s Service Station and put it in the garage. They are in the process of taking the car completely apart in the search for clues. So far, nothing.

The sheriff’s decision to move the car away from three tower bridge couldn’t have come too soon. People were beginning to stir up even more trouble, complaining that the sheriff was not doing his job. Mayor Alvin Thrashborn paid a visit to the sheriff’s office, which is Pete Terkinberry’s kitchen, to give him an update on the overall attitude in Maple Valley. The mayor wasn’t really trying to cause trouble for the sheriff, he was just letting him know that more trouble was brewing.

It’s good to see all of our neighbors out and about after a very long and cold winter. The flowers are beautiful, the trees are covered with leaves, the birds are singing, although not as a result of any bird callers in Maple Valley. Hopefully, there will soon be some good news in the search for Sylvia Meisner.