In the early 20th century, author Thomas Wolf famously said, “You can’t go home again.” I humbly beg to disagree.
Time is elastic. It wrinkles, bends, expands, contracts. My most recent trip down M-13, also called Old U.S. 23, between Bay City and Standish in east Michigan, proves that you can, indeed, go home, and bend memory toward today.
This 17-mile stretch of highway was once the only way to drive into northeast Michigan. I’ve traversed it since I was a youngster enjoying watching things whiz by my window in the back seat of my parents’ Ford sedan, heading to another Tawas-area summer vacation. It hasn’t changed much — but yet, it has.
Come along with me this time, as my passengers — and perhaps on your next journey to the sunrise side, you’ll make the time to take the M-13 exit off I-75 and discover some of the quirky and interesting stops on this old Michigan road.
Just north of the point where M-13 turns into a four-lane, the Turkey Roost has been serving inexpensive plates of real roast turkey and all the fixins since I was 8. It’s hard to miss. Just look for the pink building on the east side of the road, near Kawkawlin. It’s on its fourth owner, Austin Ballor, son of past owner Todd, who’s still there.
“We go through about 3,500 38- to 40-pound birds a year,” Todd says. The turkeys are roasted whole and always with the same promise: Turkey at your table within minutes. Sometimes, in seconds. Todd says the most popular item is the original Turkey Plate. It’s comfort food, through and through. The Turkey Roost also serves breakfast, Friday fish, and pies from our next stop.
Rosie’s Pies & Bakery
Pat Schnell and sister RoseAnn named this place after their mother 23 years ago, and Pat is still behind the counter preparing and selling up to 2,000 pies weekly. She admits to having a little help from friends and relatives at holiday time, when customers are lined out the door.
And, yes, that’s 2,000. The most popular varieties are Dutch apple and pumpkin, but you’ll almost always find blueberry, raspberry, meringue, and even peanut butter among the dozen types of pies available daily.
Schnell also makes custom pies on request. Regardless of type, they’re all $17. It’s simpler with one price, she says. The shop also supplies the local Jack’s Fruit & Meat markets.
Linwood Beach Marina & Campground
Directly on Saginaw Bay, the marina is open year-round for boating or fishing, both soft and, in winter, the hard-water variety, when ice-up occurs. The bay promises some of the world’s best walleye fishing, and you can book a charter here and stay at the Linwood Beach campground.
John’s Hubcap Sales
The side of the bright blue building says 60,000 hubcaps, and owner John LeGendre knows where each one is. Need a hubcap for an auto restoration? Lose one in a pothole? This is the place.
LeGendre has caps dating from 1948, including one rare Cord cap. He even sells over the phone. He’s usually open four days a week, but when the large garage door is up, he’s there.
Williams Cheese Co.
The company founded by Jim and Jenny Williams in 1946 churns out more than 5 million pounds of spreads annually, including a horseradish cheese that just won the gold medal in a world competition in Wisconsin. Williams also sells other cheeses and those squeaky curds.
Frank’s Great Outdoors
When we kids passed Frank’s Bait & Tackle, as it used to be called, we knew we were almost “Up North.” Frank’s has grown a lot since then, and now sells outdoor clothing, gifts, and such, and recently expanded its fishing department.
I rely on their recorded fishing reports from Capt. Andy Gorske, grandson of Frank, who founded it in 1945. Today Andy and his brother, Pete, carry on.
Northwoods Wholesale Outlet
The place that “makes the outdoors affordable” has been a Pinconning fixture since two brothers moved the business in 1999 into a 75,000-square-foot building. It’s now more than 90,000 square feet, and sells everything from trailer tires to cheese.
The establishment’s biggest draw is the fishing department, which sells rods, reels, lures, electronics, and, in season, 4,000 to 5,000 dozen night crawlers weekly.
In summer, 10,000 kayaks leave the lot, and in fall, it’s truckloads of bird seed. Bigfoot is the store mascot, and its billboards advertising seasonal deals decorate highways from Indiana to just south of town, reports Northwoods director Bob Wozniak.
I can still remember the burgers at Pinconning’s Purtell’s, and its house-made ice cream — including my family’s favorites, chocolate revel and butter pecan. The dairy in back may be gone, but the food and ice cream have been staples here since 1925.
Kathy Purtell is currently in charge, after taking over from her parents years ago. Don’t forget the malts and shakes!
Wilson’s Cheese Shoppe
Look for the big mouse and cheese wedge atop the building on Pinconning’s north side, and you’ve found it — right in the town where Pinconning cheese, a type of Colby, was invented when dairy farmers here needed to do something with their extra milk.
Wilson’s has been selling Pinconning cheese — from its biggest seller, mild, to 10- and 15-year extra-extra-extra sharp — since 1925. There’s a great selection of wines, too, in addition to other treats. “We’re a lot of people’s half-way stop north,” says manager Ryan Kleinhans. “We have something for everybody’s taste levels.”
If you just can’t get enough cheese, the Pinconning Cheese Co. & Fudge Shoppe has been across the street since 1948. The town hosts its annual Cheese Festival each June.
Saganing Eagles Landing Casino & Hotel
You’re nearing Standish now, where M-13 again becomes U.S. 23. At Worth Road, turn east, and if you’re ready for a break, head to this hot spot just off Saginaw Bay. The hotel is next to the casino, and there’s camping, too.
Jay’s Fruit Market
This is one of the last of many such roadside markets that once lined M-13 from Bay City to Standish. You can stock up on everything from veggies to meats for the rest of your journey.
M-13 may end here, but this is only a glimpse of what’s in store when you leave the freeway and explore, both in your mind and in your vehicle.
Text & Photos By Bill Semion