Saturday, June 25, 2011

20 Years Gone... Our Amazing Time Travels

It's hard to believe it could have been twenty years since Russ served in the Lansing Michigan mission!  For our family trip this year, we decided to go back and see the places he served, and it was much more rewarding than I thought possible!  We brought along his missionary journal and some photos of places outdoors that we thought we might be able to track down and photograph again. We had some amazing successes, as well as some disappointing failures, but most importantly, we had fun along the way.

We started in his first area, Grand Rapids, and went to his old missionary pad. He had a small apartment attached to this house.

Then we checked Google maps to find the A&W where the missionaries ate on P day.

Google gave us a bum address, and upon further investigation, we realized there is no longer an A&W in the area. So, we did the next best thing.

While driving around looking for memories, we soon realized that Russ didn't remember much about the places he had been. But luckily he did spot the place where he used to get cheap hamburgers. I guess they weren't that good because it was all boarded up.

Then we were off to Hastings to visit Russ' third area. I found an old picture of his top floor pad here.

Not much has changed, right?

After that, we decided to start doing some real investigation work. We started with a picture from a park, so we typed "park" into Google maps.

A couple of parks later, we hit the jackpot! I was so excited to actually find one of the locations in the pictures, and it gave me lots of hope for the rest. Here is Russ with his new "companions."

Luckily the name of the place was right on this picture.

The house was still there, although white now, but the bushes and trees were much bigger and hid it from view.

A search on "Devine Road" made this one pretty easy to find.


But the nerve! The sign was different, and it was among some pretty tall grasses, so Russ didn't get too close. And... he forgot to mention that it was imperative that his head cover "Rd" as part of the joke of the picture... but he wouldn't turn the car around for retakes. I was miffed!

Okay, this was my favorite. "Chapel" is pretty generic, so we thought we wouldn't find this one. Then something caught my eye... gravestones!

A couple of cemeteries later, there it was! With new windows, too! I guess some things get better with time.

Off to Jackson, Russ' fifth area. Again, he had a small apartment in this house.

This picture was taken at a church building, and since there aren't tons of LDS churches around there, this was a pretty easy find.

It was mutual night, so we decided to drop in and ask someone if they knew the man in the picture. The guy we asked happened to be his former neighbor, but he told us that this man had recently moved farther north. Then he told us that he (himself) converted to the church soon after Russ left the mission, and he rattled off some names of old timers in the ward. Russ had vague recollections of some of them. Cool! It's too bad we couldn't find a guy in a muscle shirt to dig around in the dirt when we took this picture. It would have been more authentic that way!

Later that night, we bumped into the current missionaries serving in that city. What are the chances, right? It was weird to think they might not have even been born at the time Russ was serving.

Next was Lansing, Russ' seventh and final area. I know, we didn't visit these places in the right order at all. This place was right downtown, and we tried to get to his actual door, but all the building's exterior doors were locked, and no one was around.

Then, not thinking of visiting or taking a picture in front of the museum where Russ served, we decided to look up the mission home address. We're still not sure if this was the mission home when Russ was in the field, but he said it could be. We knocked, but no answer.

After a fun filled visit to Dearborn (more on that in another post), we headed up to Saginaw, Russ' fourth area. The woman who owned the home was out gardening, and we asked her permission to photograph the home, stating that Russ had lived there twenty years ago. To our surprise, she said she had been living there for 29 years! Turns out, the house used to be two apartments, and she was their neighbor, though Russ doesn't really remember any interactions with her. She now owns the entire house.

Here's one of Michigan's ski resorts, Apple Mountain... although back then, it was Bintz Apple Mountain.

Luckily, Russ had written the name of this place on the back of the photograph, so we found it pretty easily. No snow now.

On the way to the next area, we were reading in Russ' journal and came across the name of the people whose farm Russ used to serve on.


We decided to look them up and drop by. We found out that the owners had passed away and that the farm was now run by their son. He was very friendly and touched that Russ thought enough of his father to visit.

Just for fun, he showed the kids the farm animals, too.

This is the tractor that Russ had driven, as recorded in his journal. Having been built just after WWII, it's long since busted.

When we finished at the farm, we continued on to Bad Axe, Russ' sixth area. What a ghetto pad! He actually lived above a store in the middle of town... right on the corner with the town's only stoplight.

The main door was unlocked here, so we took a peek.

And I snapped this picture of their windows while standing next to the tattoo parlor, and just as soon as the gang of Harleys roared by. I guess they live up to their city's name! (They have a hatchet festival each year, too.)

Okay, we didn't have this picture with us, but we knew it existed.

So, we took a picture, but we didn't get it just right. Oh well. Nice trees!

This next one is sort of a mystery.

Russ knew he had visited Port Austin, so we went up there to try to find this location. What we found was similar, but something fundamental had changed. The railing wasn't quite right, the walkway wasn't either, and we couldn't quite match up the background according to the angle and buildings. But it was similar enough that we were convinced it was the right location, just twenty years later. Things change.

And this one was a bust. The back of the picture says, "Dead End Road," which Russ insists was the actual name of the road.

But Google maps didn't agree, although it gave us a nearby motel that was located on a dead end road... and we snapped a picture anyway... cuz we tried.

On our way out of town, Russ spotted "Johnston Road" and knew he had taken a picture in front of a "Johnston Road" street sign.

But he wondered how this remote road could be the place because he remembered being on his bicycle. When we got home, I found the original picture. Apparently, there is more than one "Johnston Road" in Michigan.

After a some fun-filled days sightseeing northern Michigan, we finally arrived in Big Rapids, Russ' second area. This was then.

And this is now. They lived on the top floor.

But where are the stairs to get up there?

Then we drove up the road Russ remembered to have the church on it. At the time, the church was in a converted restaurant building. He knew the building was no longer the LDS church, and he saw a building that looked promising - a Christian church with a cross out front - but he second guessed himself, and we didn't take a picture. When we got home, we found this picture... that was the building, all right! Darn it! Next time, just take a picture anyway.

I spent more time looking for this playground in Hastings than on any other location. I never found it, and I finally accepted the fact that it was probably gone by now, being made of wood and all.

So when we found this similar playground in Big Rapids, I just had to take a photo... even in the rain!

Encouraged by all our success, we decided to try to find a few more locations when we returned to Grand Rapids for our flight home.

I found this location solely by studying the satellite pictures of Russ' area! I was sooo proud! Even though the bushes were several feet higher, and quite difficult to tromp through, Russ did it for me (and I owe him one, apparently).

The bonus was that Russ saw another place where he knew a photo was taken, but we did not have the photo with us. I found it when we got home.

So, the positioning isn't quite right. But that's still cool!

And lastly, since we didn't find this church building in Hastings, which was where we expected it to be based on the date on the back, Russ guessed it might have been taken at zone conference in Grand Rapids.


This trip was so fun! We loved the scavenger hunt, we loved reliving the past, and we loved talking with the people who are there now.

Ladies, if you like adventures, and your husband served a mission, I highly recommend going on a trip like this. My only regret is that I didn't spend enough time beforehand researching the facts. I was relying on Russ' memory, but it was pretty rusty... we missed two pictures, which probably would have been easy finds, because Russ had his dates and locations mixed up. There were also clues in the journal that could have led us to more sites, such as the pole barn Russ helped build. I didn't have time to track down an address because the owners are now dead (I found the woman's obituary on a Google search). Then there were those pictures that weren't in the photo albums, but turned up when I searched the photo box. Even so, I am still amazed at how much we did find, and I'm so happy we did it!