The 261

There is something about the steam locomotive’s solidity, weight, and class that will never again be approximated by other modes of transportation. No one gives a second thought when they hear the hum of an overhead jet or the strident honk of a car, but a steam whistle instantly brings to mind thrilling notions of romance, adventure, and the open frontier.

Slap Happy Studios

College roommates sometimes come up with fantastic ideas. Not my roommate and I — our greatest idea together was mixing rum with white wine, which we called Caribbean chloroform, and the result was one chipped tooth and our having to replace our dormitory floor’s fire extinguisher. It is good to see that students today are doing better than that, as exemplified by the efforts of the founders of Slap Happy Studios.

Orfield Laboratories

Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis won two Guinness World Records awards for Quietest Place on Earth in 2005 and 2013, and another one for World’s First Digital Recording Studio in 2006. I had always wanted to go, so I asked the owner Steve Orfield if he might let me in. Rather than just letting me in he gave me a personal tour, not only to provide some context for the science behind his operation, but presumably also to make sure I didn’t put my grubby monkey mittens on his $1 million quiet room or any of his other space aged equipment. I would never do such a thing, of course, because I learned my lesson after what happened to Charlie Bucket when he stole fizzy lifting drinks. I was glad to have Steve at my side nevertheless.

Heart of Minnesota Emu Ranch

I regret that I wasn’t able to make the trip to Nevis, MN to see the birds at Heart of Minnesota Emu Ranch. They’re giant and very odd looking, have brains the size of peanuts which incline them to peck at any shiny thing they see, and are one of the few animals that people have outright declared war on. (Great Emu War of 1932. Belligerents: Royal Australian Artillery, emus. Victor: emus.) It was fortunate then that the ranch’s proprietor, “Chatty” Patty Constans, was able to meet with me at a coffee shop near my home.

The Covington Inn

In 1946 General Motors christened the Codrington, a towboat with a powerful new engine capable of moving her from full ahead to full astern in only eight seconds flat. Her design proved so effective that she became the prototype for the modern towboat, and she soon busied herself by hauling liquid cargo along a 1,000 mile stretch of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. She was a symbol of America’s postwar prosperity, proudly chugging up and down the waterways alongside her thousands of sister towboats over the course of three decades.