Tag Archives: Depot Town

Ypsi Doodle Dandy

28 Feb

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The Yankee Air Museum resides on the grounds of Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. This is the sight of the historic Willow Run manufacturing plant built by Henry Ford in 1942 to build B-24 Liberators for WWII. The plant’s main structure, designed by Albert Kahn, was 3,500,000 square feet of factory space that included an assembly line that stretched over a mile long. The first Ford Liberators rolled off the line in September 1942. A total of 8,685 B-24’s were produced at the plant. The original museum was destroyed by a devastating fire in 2004, most everything except the planes were destroyed. YAM is currently located inside a former technical school on the airport grounds; plans are underway to relocate the museum to a preserved portion of the original bomber plant. A couple of planes are already in place, it’s the first time since 1952 that aircraft has been in the plant. When completed it will be called The National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run. Let’s take a look around.

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Planes are parked here and there on the grounds, Kris walks out to take photos. We enter through the gift shop, pay our admission fee and step into a world of aviation history covering global conflicts from WWI to present. I study the photos of the Guinness Book Record winning photo of the most Rosie the Riveters in one place, 3,734 with 58 original “Rosies” present. The first thing I notice about the museum is there are few ropes or barriers separating us from the exhibits, we can get right up close, sometimes even touching them. The timeline starts at WWI with a fighter aircraft, the SPAD XIII is partially tucked into a garage, a mannequin soldier nearby. Next up a B24 Liberator is under restoration, the polished fuselage perfectly displays thousands of rivets. In 1944 Willow run built one of these planes every 63 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week….Wow!!

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We walk around vintage aircraft, I notice instructions and labels stenciled in white on the exteriors, Danger is spelled out in red, arrows are in yellow. Humongous aircraft engines share floor space with a top turret, Army half-track vehicle, Vietnam era helicopter, a linktrainer. Norden and Sperry bombsights look highly technical, weapons and grenades are reminders of the casualties of war. Near the back is a work area where volunteers spend endless hours on restoration. Have you ever been in the cockpit of a plane? Check out this one, I’ve never seen so many dials, gauges, switches, buttons, levers; it’s a lot to take in. We see guided bombs and learn the basics of how they work, there are transmitters, transreceivers and power supplies. 

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The USAF Thunderbirds display is something I can kind of relate to simply because I have seen these high-flyin’, fancy-maneuver, aerobatic shows in person. The paint scheme on the plane is super-cool, all red, white and blue, the Thunderbirds logo is pretty sweet too–love the eagle with the planes in the center. Next to that is the US Navy Blue Angels exhibit, this is the Navy flight demonstration squad. Created in 1946 to raise public interest in naval aviation and to boost Navy morale, the Blue Angels are only the second formal flying demonstration team to have been created in the world. Something about this museum makes it seem more personal than your average museum, maybe it’s the way it’s laid out, everything kind of close together, certainly having few barriers helps, photographs look like they came from family photo albums.  The story the museum tells is one that encompasses the world while at the same time honoring the local angle; a footlocker stamped with the name of a man from Ferndale MI, biographies of local men and women who served our country, the importance of the bomber plant, how Detroit Saved the World. Here we are near the exact site where it all happened. Amazing.

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Hungry? Yes. Ollie Food + Spirits is on Cross St. in historic Depot Town. One of the things we love about Ypsilanti is it’s quirky, independent, fun nature. Architecture runs the gamut from Victorian to Mid-Century Modern, they have some great drive-in restaurants still in operation. You can find food to satisfy your ethnic yearnings, a great burger or some healthy, modern cuisine. Ollie caters to the vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diet–what’s not to love? The interior is quaint, rustic with an artistic flare; I love the art of Gary Horton that hangs on the walls. We enjoy an outstanding meal of the market omelette, well seasoned breakfast potatoes, lightly dressed farm greens and a side of jalapeno cornbread pudding; I need to learn how to make this….. 

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More independent shops are open each time we visit. I do a little shopping then we stop in at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, we visit any time we’re in town. Coffee is the next order of business, we walk back to Ollie and the adjoining storefront Cream & Crumb. They serve Michigan-made ice cream, baked goods, Hyperion coffee (locally roasted right around the corner), tea and booze. I first scope out the baked goods, the 3-layer lavender cake is gorgeous, love the purple fade from layer to layer, giant cubes of cereal treats, cupcakes, mini-cheesecakes, oh the choices! Still a little full from lunch we opt for a single decadent peanut butter cookie studded with Reeses pieces and chunks of peanut butter cups, yum, and some coffee of course. Out the window we stare as pedestrians stop to watch a sidewalk artist at work, when we’re finished we stop too; we smile at the little green dragon taking shape, a chunk of missing concrete the basis for his design. Thanks Ypsi, it’s been fun, see you soon.

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YPSILANTI: Fire Trucks & Food

14 Apr

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There is a wonderful ritual that takes place each spring; no it’s not the Tulips and Daffodils emerging from the cold ground or the blossoms and sweet scent of flowering trees….It’s the official opening of our beloved Drive-In restaurants! If you have ever eaten at Bill’s Drive-In located in Ypsilanti, you totally get what I am talking about. Though Bills had been open for a few weeks, it was our first opportunity to make the trip out to Ypsi.

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Best known for being the home of Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti has a lot to offer; from beautiful historic neighborhoods and a downtown on the comeback to independent shops and restaurants that have called Michigan Avenue home for decades. Our first stop in Ypsi was the Michigan Firehouse Museum located on Cross St. This gorgeous building was the original 1898 firehouse, in 2002 a multi-level addition was added. The museum takes you through the history of firefighting; from technology used to fight fires to the equipment and tools. When you step into the main exhibit space you are greeted by rows of impressive vintage fire trucks. There are no ropes to prevent you from getting right up close to these magnificent vehicles; it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the equipment through the years. The museum possesses the largest collection of fire truck bells in the country, and you know what else? You can try them out! Glass cases line the walls detailing the evolution of helmets and breathing apparatus, some of them are pretty creepy looking….The second level overlooks the main floor giving a wonderful overall view of the firetrucks. You will find display cases filled with hats, toy fire trucks and other interesting memorabilia, remember Smokey The Bear? From here cross over into the original building; this is the original bunk area complete with brass pole! Unfortunately, the pole is off-limits, so you have to take the stairs back down to the main level. Being someone who loves old things, this is my favorite area. Large wood cabinets hold vintage lanterns, it seems everything from the trucks and decoratively painted wheels to the accessories are he handsome and elegant. An original switchboard hangs on the wall, there’s a stunning 1910 ladder wagon, and an amazing example of a 1878 fire engine steamer complete with horses. The lower level is host to a group of original vehicles belonging to fire chiefs and a children’s area. The museum brings back the old childhood fascination of fire trucks!

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The short drive down Michigan Avenue to Bill’s Drive-In was filled with great anticipation; would it be as good as we remembered? The small wooden building is appropriately painted Mustard Yellow and Root Beer Brown, you eat from a tray that hangs on your car window, or a picnic table in the lot. I read that Bill’s has been around since the early 50’s and the recipe has always stayed the same, why mess with perfection? As soon as we were parked a car-hop came over to take our order; there are no menus here, they only serve coneys, plain potato chips and their own homemade root beer, perfect for the indecisive diner. I’ll start with the coneys; the hot dogs are made with a special recipe by Dearborn Sausage, they are placed in perfectly steamed buns and given a blanket of, in my opinion, the perfect chili topping. I would describe it as a more mild, sweet and smooth chili sauce, dressed with yellow mustard and minced onion, it arrives wrapped in white tissue. It is the tastiest coney I’ve ever had, they’re one of Kris’s favorites too. Then there’s the Root Beer, if you like Root Beer, you have to try Bill’s. With one big pull on the straw your mouth will be in Root Beer heaven; it’s like drinking one of those old-fashioned root beer barrel hard candies that has been rolled in superfine sugar…..outstanding! Many patrons buy a gallon of the stuff to take home. The day was mild so we ate our dogs outside using the trunk as a table, they were even better than I remembered!

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It’s always worth a drive through downtown Ypsi to see what’s new, we noticed a couple of new things so we parked to take a look. We first checked out a retail shop named Mix, it has a wonderful blend of new and used items; women’s clothing, furniture, accessories, household goods and even some art. The shop is laid out attractively and is fun to browse through. Across the street is Mix Market Place, as you may have guessed, it is owned and operated by the same owners as the retail Mix. The marketplace is an indoor collection of local entrepreneurs in a farmer’s market type setting. There was a definite buzz of activity when walked in the door; food vendors offered up samples of their specialized goodies, The Ugly Mug Cafe filled the air with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. From gourmet food and hand-made stationery to antique goods and artisan soaps there was a little bit of everything. Vendors vary from week to week, so you never know what you may discover.

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There was one more new place we wanted to check out: B-24’s Espresso Bar, just a little way up Michigan Ave. Named in honor of Ypsilanti’s heritage, B-24’s were built locally at Willow Run, the cafe features coffee, tea, fresh-baked goods and Guernsey Ice Cream. The cafe seems to be a popular gathering spot for locals of all ages. Though the baked goods looked very good, between the coneys, root beer and free samples at the marketplace, we were unable to partake in any of them. Instead we got our beverages to go and began the journey home.