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Over the course of his life, my father was, among many other things, a truck driver. He drove local routes for a number of companies and, memorably, for a while, a gasoline tanker. He was good at it; very proud of his One Hundred Thousand Miles Without An Accident award from the Teamsters. He really loved driving. So, family road trips were frequent, as were stays in motels. We always looked for the orange roof of a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge, because they were reasonably priced, clean, and had a very good restaurant on-site.

In Copper Harbor, we always stay at the King Copper motel.

To this day, when I pull into a hotel or motel at the end of a long day on the road, I want everything in one place because I am done driving until the morning.

I still love a good road trip. Luckily, so does Gina. We also both love to stay at the small, quirky, often family-owned places that one can still find, if you root around a bit, among the forest of Travelodges and Marriots.

One of our favorite destinations is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When we go there, we usually go to Copper Harbor. In Copper Harbor, we always stay at the King Copper motel.

The King Copper, much like Copper Harbor, is a throwback. It seems like, back in 1962 or so, it looked around, liked what it saw, and stayed. It’s a mid-century shrine to the classic American family vacation where you bundled everyone into that big hunk of Detroit iron and hit the road. Time has not caught up with it yet, which actually describes nearly everything in Copper Harbor, where a big change is adding a new type of pasty to the menu at the Tamarack Inn. The King Copper has been owned by the same family since the 1930s.

The King Copper has three one-story buildings. The rooms come in two sizes, small and a bit smaller. The decor would be right at home in an antique shop specializing in Mid-Century Modern chic. On the whole, the place is rustic and frankly a bit the worse for wear. But the rooms are clean, the staff and owners are friendly, it welcomes dogs and the price is right. I can also ride my mountain bike from the room to a trailhead in about five minutes.

Our favorite rooms are the end units in the buildings up the hill. These have their own private decks facing the harbor and the Lake.

The deck is a great place to relax with coffee and a pastry in the morning. Or sip a beer at the close of day while deciding where to have dinner (there are, I think, four restaurants in Copper Harbor, which is probably a lot, per capita). Plus, you can sit there and see things like this:

Due to COVID and a desire to expand our travel horizons, we’ve not been to Copper Harbor since 2017, and already know that we’ll be heading elsewhere for this year’s vacation. But with luck, come next year, we’ll be able to kick back on our usual deck, enjoy a cocktail and watch the Lake darken as the sun goes down.

 

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.


Tags: vacation, road trip, Michigan, UP, Copper Harbor, Keweenaw
Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Dave, thanx for your lovely story with your usual nostalgic touch!

    My husband and I have had the luxury of staying in many lovely, upscale hotels over the years, but we still speak wistfully of a motel we stayed at decades ago in New Hope, PA. It was called The 1740 House, and our room had a back door with two Adirondack outside and a view of the Delaware River.

    Sitting back there in the evening, we felt like millionaires!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    HoJos used to be everywhere and are deeply missed (as much for the food as for the motel). They were started in New England, but spread everywhere.

    Though I grew up in Detroit, I’ve never been to the UP, so am not aware of of Copper Mountain but it does sound like a nice throw-back and perfect for what you seek. I hope you can get back there again soon.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      HoJo’s used to make toast in large batches, butter the slices and leave them all under a heat lamp until they were ordered. This melted the butter into the slices, making them soft and delicious. I was entranced by this and always wanted what I called “floppy toast” whenever we had breakfast at HoJo’s. I still like to make toast this way!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    What a cool story, Dave, and so nicely told, starting with what you said about your dad. And the King Copper sounds like the perfect place to stay, especially for a Retro story. And looks it, too — “Mid-Century,” as you nicely note.

    Do hope you get back next year. And send all your Retro pals a postcard!

  4. Suzy says:

    Glad you mentioned HoJo’s, which I talk about in my story. They had the best fried clams, I am salivating just thinking of them. And fabulous ice cream too. Never had their “floppy toast” though, I guess I missed out.

    The King Copper sounds great. I love your description of it as “a mid-century shrine to the classic American family vacation.” As others have said, hope you make it back there some time soon. And yes, send us a postcard when you do!

  5. Marian says:

    This is a perfect reminiscence for Retrospect, Dave, and I love that the King Copper hasn’t changed, when so much else has. Sometimes the shabbiness is worth the stability of knowing where you are going.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Hope you get back there soon. As a kid, if we didn’t have a relative to stay with on a trip (to stay with a relative somewhere), we often stayed at places like Howard Johnson’s, at the high end. My father didn’t believe in reservations. So 5 of us in one room, and if we were lucky, there might we a small swimming pool.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I am reading this in the room of a best western in John Day OR, on the return leg of a trip that has involved lots of driving (which we also love) and staying in motels and hotels and friends’ extra rooms. So it is the perfect place to relate to your appreciation of a reliable all-in-one-place stop, as well as the classic family vacation option. We must have seen the King Copper when we visited Copper Harbor a few years ago, which was exactly as you described. Happy future travels to you, and resultant wonderful travelogues as well.

  8. Thanks for this throwback journey, full of meaningful details and good photos to match. The closest I got to the Teamsters was that my dad, an attorney, represented Dan Tobin, past President of the Teamsters’ local in Indiana (a powerful guy for our area). He died first and then Dad handled his wife’s legal affairs till she died. She appreciated him a lot, so she bequeathed to him in her will an old-fashioned grandfather clock that had been in their possession for over 40 years. It was a wonderful piece and my folks kept it going as long as they were alive. When they died and we sold the house, none of us had a place in our homes for it, so it went to auction. Bless Dan Tobin, and your father and all those thousands of safe miles, and the Teamsters Union (whom I understand have recently elected a new invigorated leadership team.

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