Jun 6 • 6M

Welcome to The 981 Project

2022 - Episode 1

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Join Tamela Rich for dispatches from all 981 miles of the Ohio River: people, places, history, culture, and more.
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“I have great respect for the past. If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going…” ~Maya Angelou

I learned to love the open road as a child. My family spent many hot summers in the Vista Cruiser station wagon traveling from Ohio to California during the Vietnam Era. At the time, Route 66 was still fully maintained, and motels featured swimming pools with high, medium, and low diving boards (can you believe it?). The promise of air conditioning featured prominently in neon signage, and many of the beds had “Magic Fingers” that would jangle the mattress for fifteen minutes at 25 cents a pop.

Now I explore the country on a motorcycle and share my travels in books, the OTL Magazine, and here on Substack.

Why the 981 Project?

Maybe I’m nostalgic.

I grew up near Columbus, Ohio, but never appreciated the rich cultural and natural history of the Ohio River Valley until I had grown up and moved away. After living in the South since 1982, I want to reconnect with my Midwestern roots and decided to explore the history, culture, and lore of the Ohio River.

This is the Ohio River Valley (yellow) with the Ohio River (dark blue) from its headwaters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Cairo, Illinois 981 miles later. Although we commonly think of this area as part of the Midwest, it includes Appalachia, the Blue Grass, and Abe Lincoln country.

Image courtesy of Karl Musser, who created it based on USGS data. Sourced from Wikipedia

Is this a travel blog?

Not really. Things might change with subscriber input, but for now, I’m planning a series of personal essays prompted by something I’ve seen or done, someone I’ve met, or something in the news that touches these 981 miles.

Some editions will include lots of travel resources—maps, itineraries, books, and websites—to help you explore the region from your armchair or the open road.

I’ve lined up book and movie reviews, and reflections on how the region is depicted in a news story vis-à-vis my experience.

Most of my newsletters will include a podcast of me reading what I’ve written so you can multitask while basking in all things 981. Some of them will include interviews with interesting people I meet along the way or sounds from nature or a street fair—stay tuned.

Guaranteed roadside kitsch

Yes, that picture below is me in the Ohio River town of Chester, West Virginia with the World’s Largest Teapot. The 981 Project will include lots of selfies like this one because if there’s anything I thrive on, it’s roadside kitsch!

I’ll also give you the history of these roadside treasures. Roadside America gives us the scoop:

The Teapot stands on a manicured lawn between elevated US 30 and its Chester exit ramp. It is 12 feet high, 44 feet wide, and was originally built as a giant keg by Hires Root Beer. It was then bought by David Strickler (who claimed to be the inventor of the banana split) who cut windows and doors into the keg and turned it into a concession stand at a miniature golf course in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. In 1938 it was bought by William "Babe" Devon, who brought it to Chester, added the spout, lid, and handle, and converted it into the World's Largest Teapot. Devon was a booster of the region's then-vibrant pottery industry, and used the Teapot to sell teapots as well as snacks and souvenirs.

The Teapot went out of business c. 1980 and fell into disrepair. A major restoration in 1990 brought it to its current state, followed up every few years with repairs and repainting.

How to get involved

Please, give me your “must meet”, “must-see,” and “must-do” recommendations.

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You can also support the project by sharing it with like-minded friends and family.

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Oh, and you can support this project by subscribing. The Arts & Science Council took a shine to my idea and is supporting the 981 Project as it becomes a book. THANK YOU!

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This is Tamela’s Newsletter. First project: The 981 Project.