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US 12, Ada Ruth

July 13 – Left Kennewick, WA on another picture-perfect blue-sky morning and since U.S 12 blends with I-82 to north of Yakima where it becomes its own entity again, we needed a side trip to keep up the 2-lane road discovery. Boy did we find it!

First was the town of Prosser about 35 miles west of Kennewick via the Interstate. Turning off to pick up WA Rt. 22 to our first exploration of the day we didn’t expect to spend any time in Prosser. Glad we did. It is a pleasant small town right in the middle of Washington’s south-central wine industry. In fact the town bills itself as the birthplace of Washington’s modern wine industry with over 30 wineries within a 30-45 mile drive. Of the brands I recognized was “14 Hands,” one that is distributed across the country. Lying within a rich agricultural region, area hop growers provide 75% of the US hop market and make up 20% of the world supply.

A relaxing walk around Prosser had four highlights. First was finding a coffee shop that provided a cup of high-octane espresso to make up for the lightweight motel coffee back in Kennewick. I’m always attracted to murals and Prosser boasts an interesting one. The so-called “Bicentennial Mural” measures 12 ft x 48 ft and depicts the time frame of 1882-1976 in Prosser’s history. 1882 represents the arrival of the town’s namesake William Prosser and fittingly features a Native American fisherman at the center of the mural representing a culture that was living there long before the first white people arrived.

The walk also presented the marquee of the Princess Theater, a mid-20th Century building still in use today showing movies to the community. It’s always wonderful to see these buildings still in operation with their original purpose. Finally, feeling in need of a hair adjustment, I stepped into Ralph’s Barber Shop. Although one can always feel a bit of trepidation when climbing into a new barber’s chair for the first time, Bill (who had taken over the shop many years ago) gave me a good western trim…fortunately my hair style needs are simple. It turned out OK and we were on our way. Pictures from Prosser are on the Gallery page including the trip to the barber chair.

Heading west on Rt. 22 we turn south at Mabton, WA onto Bickleton Road, the route to Bickleton, WA. In Bickleton we were to ask for directions to the main attraction of the day…the “Whoop-N-Holler Museum and Ranch.” Not quite as hot as previous days but still to tip 90F we drive into Bickleton (population 88 @ the 2010 census), a town of a short main street that has an interesting amount of activity. First is the Post Office of course, and then the Market Street Café & Grocery, a combination lunch counter and general store. It might be off the beaten path but you can get a scoop of real ice cream whenever they’re open. Across the street is the Blue Bird Inn, billed as the longest continuing operating bar in the state. A new owner has it looking spiffy and serving up a variety of food and beverage. Unfortunately the historical sign that usually hangs over the front has been removed for restoration. The Blue Bird Inn gets its name because of the amount of western bluebirds that nest right in the Bickleton area…they say it’s the bluebird capital of the world. Also on Market Street is the Carousel Museum. Since there’s only one carousel it looks like they just set the carousel and then built the building around it. We were disappointed that it was closed on the day of our visit to town.

The Bickleton Road follows a twisty 2-lane up and over and around rolling hills of various hay and wheat fields, and it gives no clue as to what awaits you at the “Whoop-N-Holler.” We were told to follow East Street out of Bickleton for 12.2 miles and then go left on Whitmore Road and the Whoop-N-Holler Museum is on the left. You won’t miss it!

This Museum is the home and life long collection of Lawrence and Ada Ruth Whitmore and is more of a walk through time of automobile and ranch equipment as well as an incredible collection of cultural and historical artifacts. There will be many photos posted on the Gallery page soon. Sadly, Lawrence passed away last year but after we had a wonderful tour with their friend David we got the chance to talk with Ada Ruth and it was apparent that we did not learn all the stories from David. Hearing about Ada’s life growing up around Bickleton, meeting Lawrence and their getting married when she was 17 and he was 19 (her affection for Lawrence remains as strong as ever), building a family of five children, and how they amassed their collection of stuff was very entertaining. At 87 years young, Ada has a story for every item that comes up in conversation including details of how and when it was acquired along with individuals who played a role in the story. She opened her house to us for a very personal tour that was unforgettable.

Lawrence had collected a large group of antique cars, trucks, and farm equipment but you can’t really say it’s a classic museum because many vehicles are probably in their final resting places scattered about the ranch. But it might be the only automobile museum collection where you have to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes as you step around the exterior exhibits.

Two vehicles stood out to me in the outdoor automobile viewing area. A large (weren’t they all then) 1970s vintage Cadillac…I dubbed it the “Sad Caddy”…lies in wake rusting away in the annual sun as the weeds encircle the body. Another is a still-robust looking (in a rusting sort of way) Reo SpeedWagon that was proudly made in Lansing, Michigan back in the day. It’s the second SpeedWagon I’ve come across on this US 12 adventure.

A group of vehicles are housed in a barn away from the weather but they are jammed together so close it’s hard to view details beyond the front exteriors. But it’s a treat nonetheless. One that is stored buried in a side barn that is impossible to see, and would have been fun to examine, is the Studebaker that Lawrence and Ada had when “courting.” We heard a story though.

David gave us a tour of the Treasure House that has an amazing display of items from days gone by. He give us a demo of a fine piece of furniture that houses a Murphy bed, played a song on an Edison cylinder phonograph recording, and played a record on an Edison record player. Eventually these videos will be posted on the Gallery page. We also toured “Aunt Ernestine’s kitchen.” One building we didn’t have time to stick our heads into was the 1900 Fairview one-room schoolhouse that was moved to the ranch many years ago.

Much of the collection of antiques was acquired via inheritance as well as personal collecting. It seems that Lawrence had several close family members who had no offspring but had homes and related stuff…when they passed away all the household stuff came to Lawrence and so their collections continued to grow. The Whoop-N-Holler name supposedly came from the antics of the children of the Whitmores…it’s quieter now except for the wind, but stories by Ada make it an exciting place to visit.

After a long conversation with Ada it was time to leave but it was apparent that our visit was appreciated…we just aren’t sure who appreciated it the most. We left wondering how we could make a return visit in the future. After our visit to the Whoop-N-Holler Museum and Ranch, we made our way back to Bickleton and then on to Toppenish, WA for the night

In addition to being located on the Yakama Nation Reservation, Toppenish is home to an amazing set of murals in the downtown area. Over 70 murals were commissioned by The Toppenish Mural Society to depict the history of the area and we walked a bit after dinner to photograph several of the murals of various sizes.

A note on photos and videos…they will be posted as possible due to limitations to wifi speeds found in the motels in which we stay. Currently it’s like molasses so they will appear along the way.

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