Da Yoopers Tourist Trap
We pull into Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, the sky leaden with clouds. A phalanx of American flags are at full extension out by the highway, straining at their poles in a cool summer gale howling down from Lake Superior. That's not unusual in this region of America -- at least no more unusual than the sight of a colossal rifle or a bus-sized chain saw.
The region is Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- the U.P. -- land of snow, mosquitoes, pasties, smelt, and Bosch beer. And Da Yoopers Tourist Trap explains it to all who would venture to this outpost on the edge of civilization.
"Yooperland" has its own cozy ice shanty of hinterland culture, celebrated by Jim "Hoolie" DeCaire, master of all things Yooper and the owner of this attraction. U.P. residents have to endure a lot of hardship (mostly weather-related), which translates into a broad sense of humor. The stereotypes of farting, belching, beer-drinking, and sportsmen of dubious ability are grist for the Yooper comedy mill -- but it's all good-natured fun, and Jim is himself a lifetime Yooper who has made a career out of championing the Yooper lifestyle to the outside world.
Or, at least, to that part of the outside world that comes up here. Mostly it's visitors from Wisconsin, or the southern part of Michigan, or da Yoopers themselves.
Da Yoopers Tourist Trap has a gift shop and a small "museum" of artifacts -- but the best attractions are outdoors. Big Gus, the world's largest working chainsaw, sits on a rise pointing towards the highway. Billy, our guide, fires up Big Gus, which is 23 feet long and is powered by a V-8 engine. The large chain cycles with a terrifying rumble, though Billy holds back on revving it up to forest hewing velocity. "Jim's always worries about the chain flying off across Highway 41," he says.
Even larger is Big Ernie, the world's largest working rifle. Big Ernie, Billy tells us, fired a rock wrapped in duct tape 2.5 miles into a corn field. But it probably won't do that again any time soon, as the recoil and shock wave knocked Ernie off of its truck mount and smashed the windows of a nearby farm house.
Gus and Ernie are examples of what DeCaire calls "Yoopervations," one-of-a-kind items built out of necessity or whimsy, and made possible by long periods of enforced hibernation. In the gift shop, for example, is a full-length winter coat made of cow hair; outside are a selection of odd vehicles bolted together out of pieces of junker cars, snowplows, and riding lawnmowers. "Yooper Assault Vehicle" rolls on tank treads and is driven by a straw-stuffed dummy wearing a motorcycle helmet with deer antlers. "Snow Cycle" is pedaled by similar dummies -- with especially big butts -- wearing George and Laura Bush rubber masks.
Big butts mean big laughs in the Da Yooper universe. So do flatulence, defecation, outhouses, and toilet humor. Da Yoopers may have the only gift shop in America with a section devoted exclusively to farting. "Farting is big business here," says Anna, who runs the gift shop. "Farting in general sells." Among many displays with an emphasis on the bowels are the Da Yoopers "Mystery Spot" -- a suspiciously brown circle of dirt -- and two outhouse photo-ops. At "Da-2-Holer" you sit on a hole directly beneath another hole occupied by a Yooper dummy. At "Da Dorkmeister Outhouse" you pose with your head stuck up through the second hole.
There is much to see here: an underground mine, a signed photo of Ted Nugent, a "man camp" where stuffed deer drink beer and men dummies are strung up by their ankles. We run back to our car to get warm as yet another tour bus pulls in, its passengers on their way from the mining museum in Calumet to the ski museum in Ishpeming, or maybe from one U.P. Indian casino to another.
"At one time this was the only place that you could get anything with 'Yooper' on it," Anna confides. "Now everyone wants to be a Yooper."
Note: Aside from the Tourist Trap, Yooper culture is spread by Hoolie and his cohorts via live appearances by Da Yoopers musical group and their novelty song CDs. They claim to be "The #1 Fishing, Hunting, and Beer Drinking Comedy Show in America!"