by Ken LahmersEditorI don't travel much because I'm too busy working and doing things close to home, plus I don't have a special someone to travel with.When I get away from Northeast Ohio, it's usually not further than within Ohio's borders. Believe me, there are plenty of things to see without leaving the state.As I wrote last week, fellow Record Publishing Co. editor Eric Marotta and I trekked to the coal fields of Eastern Ohio to see the Silver Spade stripping shovel before it is scrapped.But it wasn't just seeing the giant digger which made the day special; it was neat to visit a region I once was familiar with and lived in.In an e-mail to Chris Copeland of the Harrison County Community Improvement Corp., I asked about the Spade's status and told him I was contemplating driving to Cadiz for the first time in 30 years."Nothing much in Cadiz has changed in 30 years, except that a few more businesses have closed," he responded. "Better roads mean more retail is readily available in adjacent counties, and that results in the demise of rural areas like ours."Changes do aboundJust like someone who returns to Aurora notices the many changes that have occurred, so did I during our trip through Carrollton, Cadiz, St. Clairsville and Dennison.Our 11-hour, 250-mile journey in a drizzling rain took us through seven counties, along 10 state highways and two interstates, past five county courthouses and even by the apartment I lived in 30 years ago in St. Clairsville.Among other places we passed through were Louisville, Waynesburg, Scio, New Athens, Fairpoint, Hendrysburg and Freeport.Between Waynesburg and Malvern in southeast Stark County is near where my best friend's dad once operated a strip mine. Just past 9 a.m., we stopped in downtown Carrollton for breakfast at the Virginia Restaurant, where many local townsfolk were gathered. A large plate of biscuits and gravy and hash browns cost me $3.29.Years ago I attended several Carroll County fairs, but don't remember one unusual sight in the center of town -- a train track right beside the street.I don't mean 10 or 20 feet away from the street, but just about touching the curb. It's a rarely used track which runs past a feed mill.In Carroll County, the roads get more hilly and windy, and even more so as we approached Harrison County in Ohio's economically-depressed Appalachian region.Scio is the home of the Scio Pottery Co., which made items from the area's rich clay deposits from 1933 to 1985. It once was one of Harrison County's largest employers with 1,300 workers.Harrison County, by the way, is the birthplace of famous Indian fighter Gen. George Custer (New Rumley) and actor Clark Gable (Cadiz).Reaching coal countryTurning onto roller coaster-like Route 9, we headed for Cadiz. I was disappointed that the little coal house which stood for years in front of the courthouse was gone.We visited a coal museum in the basement of the library for about an hour. I could have stayed there a whole day.There were volumes of books with copies of documents and newspaper/magazine clippings about local coal mines, companies and disasters.The latter were common in the old days of mining.Clippings about the Willow Grove mine disaster south of St. Clairsville in 1940, which killed 72 people, caught my fancy. I wrote about the tragedy when I worked for a Belmont County paper in 1976.There were dozens of pages of clippings about Hanna Coal Co., which owned the Willow Grove mine, and its "super stripping shovels" the Mountaineer, Silver Spade and GEM of Egypt.Small mining items, such as hardhats with carbide lights hooked on the front and even an underground mine railroad car, were on display.Editor's note: The second part of this column will be published next week.E-mail: klahmers@recordpub.comPhone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3155