Tales from the Road
Memoirs from a Lifetime of Ohio Travel, Television, and More
by Neil Zurcher
- Softcover, 293 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches
- ISBN: 978-1-59851-064-5
A sparkling gem of a book . . . Intermingled with the pratfalls, hijinks and practical jokes are bittersweet stories of love and romance, tragedy and triumph . . . a remarkably well-written book. The Morning Journal
After a million miles and four decades as a TV reporter, Neil Zurcher (longtime host of “One Tank Trips” on WJW TV8 in Cleveland) has a lot of great stories to tell . . .
He met Prince Charles in a bathroom, and tripped and fell on President Gerald Ford. He raced on an elephant, piloted a glider, and hung from a trapeze. He survived a hotel fire, a tornado, and countless stunts for the camera. He was tear-gassed at an anti-war protest and almost trapped inside the Ohio Penitentiary during a riot. He drove in a day-long high-speed police chase from Cleveland to Kentucky, and got lost in the middle of Lake Erie.
He rode in jet boats, jet fighters, sternwheelers, a World War II tank, and almost every other kind of vehicle imaginable (most frequently his trademark red and white 1959 Nash Metropolitan). He was ordained as a minister in the Free Spirit Association Church and even officiated at a few weddings. And he would do almost anything and go almost anywhere for a good story. And in the process he became one of the most popular personalities on Cleveland TV.
In this book, with his familiar folksy style, Neil shares dozens of his favorite personal stories from a lifetime in Cleveland television. Many will cause a chuckle, some will surprise, and all recall an era of television and of Northeast Ohio that was full of color and characters.
These adventures from the Buckeye State are also a snapshot of Cleveland television in its golden age.
Illustrations: 48 black-and-white photos
For years Neil Zurcher provided us with fascinating travelogues about the people and places that give our little slice of the world its distinct character and charm. He did it with such artfulness and grace that you somehow felt elevated and enriched just by hearing him tell his stories . . . A sparkling gem of a book . . . Intermingled with the pratfalls, hijinks and practical jokes are bittersweet stories of love and romance, tragedy and triumph . . . a remarkably well-written book. Morning Journal
The majority of the book is devoted to anecdotes about Zurcher's go-anywhere, do-anything career, and many of them are priceless . . . the story of how he kept a straight face while a strapping male friend impersonated Miss America runner-up and WJW anchor Tana Carli is pure gold . . . Bursting with entertaining stories and memories of Cleveland TV past. Akron Beacon Journal
Includes all the stories we'd expect from Neil Zurcher, original host of Fox 8 News' “One Tank Trips.” The collection of short, first-person vignettes reveal his memories, adventures and mishaps with a humorous twinklejumping his bike through a ring of fire as a child, riding shotgun in police cruisers to cover 911 calls, and the many, many car troubles he endured during his lifetime of travel. Cleveland Magazine
A love of travel, a desire to be in the middle of the action, a heart for meeting people and delivering the news and events all have made Neil Zurcher's career span of nearly fifty years all worthwhile. His latest book is a memoir that will have readers laughing, pausing and reflecting. North Coast Voice
Table of Contents
- 1. The Hill
- 2. The Early Years
- 3. Breaking into TV
- 4. Getting Started (and Getting Lost)
- 5. Family
- 6. Hotels and Motels
- 7. Stunts
- 8. Planes, Trains, and Autos
- 9. Mishaps
- 10. Animals
- 11. Holidays
- 12. Friends and Colleagues
Video for Tales from the Road
About Neil Zurcher
Neil Zurcher logged more than a million miles on Ohio's roads over 25 years as a TV travel reporter. He was the original host of the One Tank Trips travel report, which aired on Fox8 Television in Cleveland and has since been imitated in other television markets throughout the United States. He has also written about travel for AAA Ohio Motorist Magazine and The Plain Dealer. Zurcher received the Distinguished Service award from the Society of Professional Journalism and the Silver Circle award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He also received an Emmy, the Award for Excellence in Broadcasting from the Cleveland Association of Broadcasters, and has been inducted into the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Ohio Broadcasters Hall of Fame and received their Living Legacy Award in 2007. He has written five books about Ohio, including Ohio Oddities and Strange Tales from Ohio. He blogs at www.onetanktrips.com. More About Neil Zurcher
Question & Answer with the author...
Q: While growing up you worked in your family's service station. Did you have the chance to travel at all?
A: When I was young I didn't have the chance to travel a great deal, especially during World War II because travel was restricted. After the war my family took a few vacations, but not very many. That's why I think I had such a desire to travel, because I didn't have the chance to do it when I was young.
Q: Did you hear about traveling from the people who stopped into your store?
A: Oh yeah, certainly. We had a lot of long-distance truck drivers who used to stop in, and I used to sit and listen to their stories about all of the highways they had driven and the places they had seen. It was kind of a different world for me because I didn't have the chance to travel that much. The only time I got to travel was one time when I hitchhiked to Columbus and another time when a truck driver took me to Cleveland. The only place I really went was Cleveland.
Q: Is there one experience from your childhood that influenced you to become a reporter?
A: I guess it all started when I was fifteen years old. I had an Ansco camera, and a man down the road from our store was putting in a water wheel to generate his own electricity. I told the people at the Oberlin-News Tribune about it, and they said, “Get us a picture and write us a story.” So I went down and I took pictures of the thing and interviewed the man, and that was the very first story that I ever reported on. I kind of liked it. I saw my name in print and thought that was pretty neat.
Q: How did you start writing for the Oberlin News-Tribune?
A: I was in the Marine Corps at the time and collected toys at Christmastime, and we were in Oberlin doing a publicity photo shoot. I met Brad Williams, the editor of the Oberlin News-Tribune, and we started talking. He learned that I had an interest in the newspaper business and I lived nearby. He said he had an opening for somebody that knew the Firelands area where my home of Henrietta was and asked if I was interested. That's how it all started.
Q: How did you break into broadcasting?
A: I had always been interested in broadcasting since I was a little kid, using the extension from my mother's vacuum cleaner as a microphone. One time when I was a writer for the Oberlin-News Tribune I had lunch with a man named Howard Head who ran a collection agency. He was a friend of mine and we were talking about what I always wanted to do, and I said I always wanted to get into broadcasting. He knew Paul Nagel, who was the general manager at WEOL in Elyria at the time, and he said coincidentally Nagel told him they were looking for a new evening newsman. Howard asked me if I had any reporting experience. Of course I told him about the Oberlin News-Tribune and he thought that would be enough, so he called Nagel and the next thing I knew I was working nights in radio.
Q: Did you develop your voice on your own?
A: In those days in radio and on television announcers had the big, deep, booming voice, and I had a very high-pitched, squeaky voice, at least I thought it was. I did my best to try and get it down an octave. I didn't really succeed. I guess I didn't really have a voice for broadcasting, but times were changing and so did the voices on TV and radio. As long as you didn't have a speech impediment, I guess you were OK.
Q: What was your most memorable story as a reporter?
A: Probably the most outstanding memory has to be the Palm Sunday tornado of 1965 because it did so much damage. Also, the shooting of Deputy John Palermo of the Lorain County sheriff's department. Palermo was killed, and that was more than memorable because John was my friend.
Q: How did “One Tank Trips” start?
A: It began in 1979 when we had the first mideast oil crisis. My boss at the time, Virgil Dominic, thought we should have a weeklong series featuring places people could drive to on one tank of gas since gasoline back then was in short supply. We did the weeklong series, and it grabbed so much attention from the public. It apparently hit a nerve, and Virgil decided to keep it going for the rest of that summer. We extended it into fall, finally into the new year, and suddenly it became year-round for twenty-five years.
Q: Do you have a favorite location?
A: I guess my favorite is Marietta. Marietta was the very first place I visited on a One Tank Trip. I made several friends there over the years and I have always been fascinated by the rich history of the town. It was the first settlement in the Northwest Territory, a stop on the riverboat circuit, and has the charming atmosphere of a small river town. I've always liked it. I guess I also like Ohio's Amish Country. The Amish area is also a favorite because it reminds me of my boyhood farm. It's quiet and the pace of life here is something that most of us who live in large metropolitan areas have lost forever. No matter how many times I go back to Amish Country there is always something new to see.
Q: Who are some of the most memorable people you met on your travels?
A: Probably the most memorable guy is Komar. He ran a cheese store in the Wilmot, Ohio, area, but in his off-hours he was an Indian fakir. He would lay on a bed of nails and let people break rocks on his chest. Johnny Tarr was another interesting guy who operated a restaurant in Parma Heights. Johnny Tarr was a Hungarian immigrant who came to this country in 1950 with just the clothes on his back. By hard work he used his expertise in the restaurant business to work his way up from busboy to chef and eventually owned his own restaurant. I've also met a lot of very famous people like Prince Charles and his father and also Martin Luther King, Jr., and several U. S. presidents. I write about them in Tales from the Road.
Q: Even though you're retired now, do you still travel?
A: I do still travel, writing as a freelancer. My work appears in the Cleveland Plain Dealer once a month. I also host a blog called One Tank Trips.com. Every week, I feature a new destination with pictures taken at the location.
Q: After decades of driving around Ohio are you still finding new places to visit?
A: Surprisingly, new attractions keep popping up all the time, and because people in the travel business still communicate with me, I hear about them. For instance, one of my favorites is the zipline. These are usually found in exotic locations where there are hills and rivers, but we now have some in Ohio. A zipline is quite simply a steel cable that spans upwards of 1,100 feet in some instances. Riders hang from the cable by a nylon harness that is attached to a small “trolley” on the cable that carries the rider across the cable to another spot also located in the tops of trees or mountains. It takes a bit of courage to trust your life to a single cable stretched as high as a fourteen-story building among the trees.
Q: Everyone wants to know about the little red Nash Metropolitan you drove. What is the story behind this car? Where is it now?
A: At the start of the series we talked about getting a replica of a 1929 Model A Ford. Ford agreed to lend us one, however, some economic hard times happened in 1980 and at the last minute Ford said they couldn't give us the car. So I was suddenly out of a special car to drive in the series. I happened to remember as a youngster that I had driven a small Bantam American, which is a very tiny, little car, and I thought that would be kind of fun, but I couldn't find one. I told a friend about the Bantam, and he went out and bought one for his own collection. He offered to let us drive it, but I couldn't use it all the time. It was a museum piece, and I was always nervous driving it around. I was looking around for a new car and finally found a Nash Metropolitan for sale. I tried to get the station to buy it, but they wouldn't, so my wife Bonnie and I bought it, and I used it in the series for the next several years, almost up until the time I retired. It's now in the Canton Classic Car Museum.
Q: If someone were to ask “What makes a good TV travel reporter?”—how would you answer?
A: I think, number one, is to love what you're writing about. If you don't like what you're writing about it will show in your work. I think other than that you have to keep up with what's going on around you. You've got to get out and travel; you can't do it on the Internet. I know writers that never travel to the place they're writing about, and I'm really kind of surprised by this. I think the only way you really know something about a place is to get out there and see it through your own eyes.
Q: What does the future hold for Neil Zurcher?
A: In the long term, I hope a long life. In the short term, another One Tank Trip is in my future––in fact, I'm heading out the door right now!
Contains References to:
Al Sirat Grotto Shrine Circus, Big Chuck & Lil' John Show, Bit of Budapest Hungarian Restaurant, Candy Store, Canton Classic Car Museum, Captain Penny, Carl Crapo, Carl Monday, Cars of One-Tank-Trips, Casey Coleman, Cedar Point, Charles Kuralt, Chuck Schodowski, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Crawford Auto Aviation Museum, Denise Dufala, Dick Conrad, Dick Goddard, Edgewater Beach, Franklin Castle, Fred Griffith, Free Spirit Association Church, Gene Carroll, Geneva-on-the-Lake, George Voinovich, Gerald Ford, Guggisberg Cheese Company, Hocking Hills State Park, I-X Center, Jacobs Field, Kelleys Island, Kenny Crumpton, Largest Cuckoo Clock, Maharajah of Magador, NASA Lewis Research Center, Oberlin News-Tribune, Ohio Historical Society, Ohio University, One Tank Trips, Robin Swoboda, Rockettes, Salt Fork State Park, Scott Sabol, South Bass Island, Stefani Schaefer, Thomas Edison, Tim Taylor, Tracy McCool, United States Air Force, United States Marine Corps, Wayne Dawson, Western Reserve Historical Society, WEWS, WHAM, Wilma Smith, Windsor Casino, WJW, WKYC, Woollybear Festival, Woollybear Parade, WVIZ, WWII, WXEL, Ziggy Talent,