By Bruce Stambaugh
Word to the wise. If you ask for directions in Holmes County, Ohio, you just might want to get a second or even third opinion. Better yet, use a map, atlas, a GPS or a combination of those geographical aides.
Here’s why. With three to four million visitors to our fine county every year, some of them get lost, or at least do not know exactly where they are. Shoot. Some might not even know where they want to go.
But given what I have observed and heard over the years, that’s not a problem either. The genial folks who live here will gladly offer some directional advice if asked.
Generally, the directions given answer the directions sought. But not always. Holmes County has its fair share of ornery characters.
Of course, I wouldn’t be one of them, though living where I do I certainly have had plenty of chances. While working outside, it is not uncommon for a car to slow on our busy highway and have either a passenger or the driver ask how to get to Berlin or Millersburg, or a specific business.
I try to be as succinct as possible, using landmarks and road numbers and the appropriate “turn right” or “turn left.” I like to end with what I have heard countless other locals finish their directional spiel. “Like we say in Holmes County, you can’t miss it.”
Meant as affable words of encouragement, too often I fear they are the deathblow to everything that preceded that comment. Since I never see the persons again, I can’t testify whether the colloquialism is true or not. But it could be worse, and sometimes is. The following antidotal incidents are completely true.
After a tourist inquired of a local where a certain person lived, the native immediately asked in all seriousness, “Do you know where the eight-sided barn used to be?” The point of reference had burned to the ground several years previous.
Here’s another. A tourist asked for directions to little unincorporated Saltillo, a cluster of homes at the diagonal crossroads of two county highways. These were the instructions. “You go up a long hill, over a small hump in the road, then it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from there.”
They get better. The state superintendent of public instruction, driving a state car with state license plates, stopped and asked for directions. Seeing the distinguished gentleman’s suit and tie and glancing at the plates, the unsuspecting superintendent got directions that took him far out of his way. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor and understood the county’s suspicions towards state and federal officials.
A friend of mine was standing on the square in Millersburg when someone in a car going west asked directions to Berlin, five miles to the east. My friend sent them north to Wooster, east to Canton, south to Dover and west to Berlin, a distance of 96 miles.
The same friend was once asked for directions from Millersburg to Mohawk Dam in Coshocton County from someone from out of the area. The vehicle was pulling a fishing boat.
My friend figured someone was sending this poor fellow on a wild goose chase. Since the guy had driven this far, my friend figured he might as well complete the ruse. The proper directions were given and the man and his boat were on their way.
Mohawk Dam is a flood-control, dry dam. I’m sure they couldn’t have missed it.