The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour - Part 1

Edited: July 22, 2018, 5:56 PM

As someone who has had the pleasure to experience over four hundred roller coasters, it is rare that a park announces a ride that truly wows me, at least among the North American parks. Yes, I look forward to trying the latest and greatest creations, and even rides that may not look particularly impressive on paper can wind up delivering a much bigger punch than expected. However, most of the time I'll see a new ride, say something along the lines of "It looks pretty good," then add that park to my revisit list for the next time I'm in the area. 2018, therefore, differed from the norm, as a certain park in the Midwest unveiled what looked to be a serious contender for the title of best roller coaster ever built. What was that ride? Steel Vengeance.

Immediately upon returning from my inaugural visit to the Sunshine State, I set to work planning an epic summer adventure for 2018. Looking at parks I either had not visited or wanted to return to, the original plan was to start in Philadelphia and head west across the state of Pennsylvania, making stops at every decently-sized park along the way. From Cincinnati, the trip would turn northward, trekking all the way up to Michigan's Adventure before doubling back and ending at America's Roller Coast on the shores of Lake Erie. It was to be a grand two-week adventure, with an outstanding variety of parks and a few other interesting activities. Unfortunately, due to a complicated set of circumstances, a massive change in the itinerary was required. What resulted ended up becoming known as the Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance tour...a trek through Ohio and Pennsylvania featuring stops at a dozen theme parks of various sizes and designs, culminating with a celebration of our nation's independence in the place where it was born. Even better, this time I wouldn't be traveling alone. In addition to myself, four friends who you may or may not recognize joined me on this adventure:

-Joshua, my younger brother who currently lives in North Carolina and provided the use of his car for the trip.
-Douglas, a well-known poster here on TPI (DHindley) and over at WDW Magic, where you can view his trip report: Visions of Steel & Wood.
-Evan, a friend I met on one of the Theme Park Review trips and who joined me on last year's adventure to Florida.
-Kevin, another coaster enthusiast friend of mine who joined me on the Silverwood/Lagoon trip last year. His trip report will be featured on his own site, Incrediblecoasters, as the Mini Midwest Tour.

Several other friends of mine also met up with us for one or two days of the tour, so they will be mentioned when relevant.

One last thing to note before we begin...unlike my previous trip reports, this trip mostly covers parks I have visited previously, and as such will be more of a story and less of a review. I will include links to past reports I have done on this site for those who want more of an analysis of the parks. Yes, I'll still include rankings where appropriate, but the overall report will be more about my experience than about the parks themselves.

Now, it is time for us to begin. Get ready, because the 10 part adventure begins now.

The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour
Part 1: The Henry Ford & Greenfield Village

As has become a tradition on my trips, we begin this tour at Los Angeles International Airport late on Saturday, June 23rd, as I wait at the gate with Kevin and Evan for our overnight flight to Detroit. Despite less than stellar reviews, for this trip I opted to give Spirit Airlines a try, as it was less than half the price of the competition. Fortunately, other than a small delay the flight was pretty uneventful, with nothing worth complaining about that isn't an issue among all budget airlines.

The next morning, we were met at the curb by Joshua, and after a brief rest at his hotel room and a breakfast at McDonalds we headed off to the Henry Ford. There, we met up with Douglas and another well-known TPI member, James Koehl, for a tour of the Henry Ford museum. Douglas and James had spent the previous day at Greenfield Village, an attraction accompanying the museum, so unfortunately their tickets were restricted to the museum only on this day. At James's suggestion, we decided to start with Greenfield Village, then join them in the museum after lunch. Therefore, after transferring Douglas's luggage to Joshua's car, we split off and each went our separate ways for the morning.

Greenfield Village

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Located adjacent to the museum itself, Greenfield Village is the first outdoor living history museum ever opened to the public. Dating back to 1933, the complex features a large number of historically significant buildings, most of which have been relocated from their original locations and preserved here in the state they were in at the time of maximum historical significance. Visitors are free to roam the village and enter most of the buildings, where they are often greeted by an interpreter from the appropriate time period to give them a tour. The sizable grounds can be toured on foot, or visitors can take a train around the property or a guided tour in an authentic Model T.

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With only about three hours to explore the village, we opted to bypass the upcharges and explore the village on foot. During the tour, we made stops at several notable buildings, including:

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The Wright Cycle Shop and home, where the invention of the airplane first began.

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Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Complex, the location of his laboratory and where most of his research was conducted. This was one of the more interesting stops, with working examples of equipment Edison had available to himself at the time he invented the lightbulb.

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The Ford Family Home, where Henry Ford was born. This house was furnished exactly as it was when Henry Ford was a child.

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Firestone Farm, which is still a working sheep farm in the village.

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The Logan County Courthouse, the place that Abraham Lincoln began his law career.

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Ackley Covered Bridge, a historic bridge built in the 1800s for horse-drawn wagons.

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The Farris Windmill, dating back to 1633 and often claimed as the oldest standing windmill in the United States.

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In addition to touring the buildings, we also spent time strolling through the village and interacting with performers. This is not a place that is best seen by rushing through to check out the highlights. Rather, it is all about taking in the atmosphere and imagining that you're back at the turn of the 19th century. For those who have followed the Theme Park Apprentice competition, this is James Koehl's Americana 1900 park brought to life...well, the park minus all the thrill rides.

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By noon, we had completed a reasonably complete tour of the village, so we grabbed lunch at "A Taste of History," Greenfield Village's food court. Here, a variety of different food options were available, all based on old recipes from the 1800s. Soups, sandwiches, and potatoes dominate the menu, with a few other things (like sausages) thrown in for good measure. The food wasn't bad, though I wasn't overly impressed by it either. It definitely was an interesting meal that is slightly adventurous but still a fairly safe option for those on the more conservative side.

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With a plan to meet up with Douglas and James around 1 P.M., we took a few photos as we made our way back to the entrance and then crossed over to the main part of the Henry Ford complex.

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

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Celebrating innovation throughout the history of the United States, the Museum of American Innovation began as Henry Ford's personal collection of historic artifacts. Today, it contains a vast assortment of historic machinery, vehicles, and pop culture relics dating from the early 1900s to today. The sizable museum is arranged into several galleries, each with a specific focus.

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Heroes of the Sky is a section dedicated to aircraft. As expected, this section contains a large display on the Wright brothers, as well as the prototype helicopter and the first airplane to fly over the north pole. There is also an exhibit simulating the experience of air travel throughout the decades.

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Driving Across America is a showcase of not only classic and record breaking cars, but also many of the items typically associated with a cross-country road trip. Old travel literature, neon motel signage, and a recreation of a roadside diner can all be found here.

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Two large steam locomotives stand at one end of the museum, with a gigantic model railway nearby to depict the evolution in rail travel across the United States.

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A fairly sizable section of the museum was dedicated to heavy machinery, with a focus on power generation. Several of the items in here were still in working order, with demonstrations occurring throughout the day.

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One corner of the museum was full of farming equipment.

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Another section housed miscellaneous oddities, largely things you would find in a house.

The last section focused on US History, with a number of historical artifacts on display. Some of the most important were the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Unfortunately, I didn't think to get a picture of this area.

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As Douglas and James had already spent the morning in here, we did a quick lap with them to get an idea of the highlights, then James departed to head back home (he would be joining us for the next couple days as well). We toured the museum for about an hour, then at 2:30 we all reconvened in the central hall. With a consensus that we'd all seen everything, it was time to head out and begin the drive to our first theme park of the tour...Cedar Point. It was time to return to one of the best amusement parks in the country, and this time we were coming with a vengeance.

Overall, the Henry Ford was a very interesting place to check out, and a great way to ease into the trip after a sleepless night on the plane. While I'm not sure I would say it's worth a special trip up to Detroit just to experience it, should you find yourself in the region it is well worth a day to check it out. Greenfield Village requires a little more time than we had for a comprehensive tour (I'd probably say 4-5 hours), while the Museum of American Innovation can be toured pretty easily in an hour and a half, making the two a great combination for a day out in Detroit.

Next Week: Seeking (Steel) Vengeance at American's Roller Coast

Replies (9)

Edited: July 16, 2018, 5:34 AM

Great start to the trip, AJ, and now that I see some of the photos I wish even more I would have been able to join you guys. However, where are the food pics???? Dude, pictures of food are only second to pictures of coasters! Of course pictures of McDonalds' food are totally unnecessary (shameful way to start an adventure, btw), but that food court in Greenfield Village sounded interesting enough....

You mentioned that there were upcharges for the Greenfield Village area, but you could pretty much tour the area free of charge. How about the museum? Free as well? Also, are the interpreters and tour guides at Greenfield Village like the cast members in Williamsburg, VA? Are they "in character"?

July 16, 2018, 8:36 AM

Since I was with Doug Hindley all day Saturday in Greenfield Village I can answer that. Yes, the Village and Museum each charge admission, but they have a variety of admission packages (go to their website https://www.thehenryford.org ) and once you're in everything is covered other than the train, carousel and Model-T cars, buses, passenger wagons, etc. in the Village that have drivers/tour guides, and though I forget the individual price you can get a wrist band that will allow you to ride anything as often as you want. Well worth it. Not every house has a guide- some have prerecorded talks, while others have live hosts that are not costumed interpreters but are very well informed about the house they're in. The most important, unique homes (a colonial home from the 1600s, a southern plantation home from the 1700s, the Henry Ford Birthplace, the Firestone Farm and several others have costumed interpreters who are "in character" but not obnoxiously so. They're fixing meals as they would in the period of their house but explain what they're doing and why, and in all cases they're actually fixing their meal for the day and will eat at the table just like they would if they lived there. They can't share with visitors due to health laws but it's fascinating to listen and watch, and they really know what they're doing and how to explain it to 21st century time travelers. We spent all day Saturday in just the Village and didn't see everything- we did watch most of an old-time, old-rules baseball game, played with a hand-stitched ball and no gloves. We watched glass being blown, tin being crafted, pottery being molded, sheep being herded and a coal stove being stoked.

We didn't eat in the food court, but in the neighboring Eagle Tavern, an 1850 stagecoach stop brought from Clinton, Michigan. You eat at communal tables, the food is all directly created from period menus and is strictly seasonal based on what would be available from the surrounding countryside at that time of the year, the only lighting is from candles and from the windows, and the food was phenomenal. Sunday we ate in the Museum in an authentic diner from the late 40s/early 50s, and the food was just as good (and the pie outstanding). I kept waiting for James Dean to pull up outside on his motorcycle.

I disagree with AJ on one thing- while you can rush through the museum in a few hours, to really explore it and read the descriptions you could easily spend all day there, like we did in the Village and missed so much after eight hours of exploring. BTW, the complex opened in 1929, not 1933, and it really is America's first theme park.

July 16, 2018, 10:32 PM

James R, I'm sorry to say that my report will not be featuring food photos as that just isn't my thing. However, if you're looking for that sort of thing, Douglas's report certainly won't disappoint. It's too bad that you weren't able to join the trip, but if all goes according to plan my big summer trip for 2019 will be a lot more accessible to you.

I think I accidentally omitted a line regarding the upcharges. At Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford, there's an admission fee that gets you onto the grounds and allows you to tour at your own pace. If you want to do any of the more guided attractions (such as the railroad, ride a Model T, etc.), there is an upcharge for those. I've never been to Colonial Williamsburg (must do next time I visit the area), but the interpreters were dressed in period attire and generally acted in character, though they would break character when it made sense to do so.

James K, like most things I'm sure the amount of time required varies wildly. For me, I'd say about 5 hours in the village and about 2 in the museum is about right. For someone who wants to fully immerse themselves in the history and/or read everything in the museum in detail, I could definitely see spending a full day at either. Had we not had plans to head to Cedar Point that evening, there's a good chance I would have headed back to the village for another hour or two after we finished at the museum. I also absolutely agree...while not matching the traditional definition of a theme park, Greenfield Village definitely qualifies as one more so than some places that call themselves theme parks, and it does predate them all.

July 17, 2018, 6:48 AM

AJ, as the many "discussions" in TPI have shown, it's difficult to establish what that definition of a theme park is, but if one of those criteria includes having labelled , specifically themed areas, then Greenfield Village qualifies. The problem is that it doesn't have any specific gateways announcing "You Are Now Entering XYZ Land." Like most towns, the themed areas organically flow into each other, slightly overlapping. The seven themed sections of Greenfield Village are Working Farms, Liberty Craftworks, Henry Ford's Model T, Railroad Junction, Main Street, Edison at Work, and Porches and Parlors, and are pretty self-explanatory.

James R., didn't I send you pictures of our meals while we were there? You're going to need to start organizing your food pics better ;+)

July 17, 2018, 10:26 AM

James Rao, while there will be a few more food pics in my Trip Report on WDWMagic, they still might not be up to the storied Rao standards. After a while you don't really need additional pictures of grody theme park pizza.

But stick to the end of my report and you'll see a practically pornographic image of some Philly cheesesteak!

Meanwhile, I'll be reporting a multiweek trip through Mainland China to take place this September. There I guarantee great food pics!

Edited: July 18, 2018, 5:56 AM

HA! You guys.... The key is to apply the same critical eye to the grub that you do to the rest of your adventurous pictures and only take photos of GOOD and UNIQUE theme park food stuffs! It is an art - and very difficult since you generally want to eat the good grub immediately upon receiving it rather than wait to take photos! ;)

But thanks for all the follow up comments! Keep the adventures coming!

PS Jim, I did finally find your photos - great stuff! For some reason I must have inadvertently blocked your texts... inadvertently. =)

PPS Doug, I have been following your trip report as well, and the photos are gorgeous - but your breakfasts...dude? Why?!?!?! Better to grab a protein bar and a Monster than slop that garbage into your body!

July 18, 2018, 9:24 AM

We've been to the Henry Ford Museum, and combined our day with the Rouge (F-150 plant). It was a solid day for us, and we felt really rushed through the museum near the end of the day. I would say the museum by itself is a solid 6-hours, especially if you don't have kids that are going to get bored after a few hours. There's so much history in that museum that was far more than I initially expected. We're spoiled living the DC Area with the Smithsonian, but the Henry Ford is one of the few museums in the US outside of NYC and LA that we felt could stand up to the volume and quality of the "Big 3" Smithsonian museums (Air and Space, American History, and Natural History). While it doesn't have quite the diversity of the Smithsonian's American History Museum, it has a wide array of exhibits that go well beyond a bunch of cars that we initially expected (sitting in the Rosa Parks bus was enlightening and powerful, but may not have the same impact on small kids), which was why we didn't plan a full day at the museum on our only visit back in 2007. We had initially considered buying the combo ticket to do the Rouge, the museum, and Greenfield Village in a single day, but we were probably smart to stick to just the plant and the museum.

July 18, 2018, 4:13 PM

Russell, get back to the Village. Seriously, it's the best of the three parts of the Henry Ford.

July 19, 2018, 8:02 AM

If we ever find ourselves back in the Detroit area we will, but there are so many other North American cities that we need to visit for a first time along with a few that are worthy of repeat visits every few years (NYC, LA, and Orlando). One of my former co-workers is a big Michigan fan, and keeps trying to get me to take a road trip up for a game at the Big House (about 8 hours from DC to Ann Arbor), so maybe one of these years we'll do that and carve out a day for Greenfield Village.

Even though it's been 11 years since we were last there, we don't have any desire to go back to Detroit.

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