As we woke up after a long day 2 in Lafayette/West Lafayette, I was glad we had skipped Exploration Acres the day before. It was 6:30 in the morning, and we had to be at The Farm at Prophetstown in Battle Ground, Indiana at 8:00 to meet the staff and learn how to milk cows.
We had two rooms at Homewood Suites, courtesy of their generosity in providing us a suite and a side room. Our room was like a small apartment anyway, and the addition of the extra room gave everyone a chance to sleep in their own bed. It had a small kitchen that was as big as most apartment kitchens, a master bedroom that was as big as the bedroom of the apartment where we lived four years ago, and a luxury bathroom that you usually only see in model homes.
I was tired, so I holed up in our room and did some work and watched a little Netflix in my bed before everyone called it a night at 11:00. The bed was comfortable, and the wifi speed was fast enough that nothing ever buffered. Meanwhile, the family cackled at America’s Funniest Home Videos on the flat-panel TV out in the sitting area.
Homewood Suites is just off SR 26, west of I-65, and is about 15 minutes drive from Purdue University, and 5 – 10 minutes from downtown Lafayette. Just get in the left lane, follow the arrows, and you’ll find yourself driving down Main Street through Lafayette, and across the bridge to West Lafayette and the Triple XXX family restaurant.
My alarm went off at 6:30, and we were packed up, had a light breakfast, and we were heading north on I-65 to The Farm at Prophetstown by 7:45.
The Farm at Prophetstown
That’s one of the things you get to do at the Farm is milk cows. You can also collect eggs and help with other farm chores. I had never milked a cow before, but I’d seen it done on TV. Despite my city boy-ness, I was looking forward to this, and promised myself not to be a big baby about it.
The Farm at Prophetstown is a working farm, which means they have animals — chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows — fields to raise their animal feed, and the buildings and machinery to make it all work. They have a small staff and a lot of volunteers to run the place, and plenty of events to teach people all about life on the farm. The Farm is currently known as Historic Prophetstown as of this writing, but they are changing their name in the near future.
(In keeping with our theme of First, Only, or Notable, it’s interesting to note that the Farm is on or near the site of Prophetstown, where the Tippecanoe Battle of 1811 between Tecumseh and General William Henry Harrison was fought. That battle led to the War of 1812. The Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum is less than two miles away.)
When we met our host, Melissa, who gave us a tour of the 1920s replica farm house — it was a replica of a Sears & Roebuck kit house — we got to see how some of the more successful farmers would have lived almost 100 years ago.
Unlike other places we’ve visited, these farmers at least had electricity and running water. They had some of the modern conveniences you’d find in the early 20th century. But they still had plenty of items you’d find 20 – 30 years earlier too.
Afterward, we got a tour of several of the buildings, including the chicken house — they even had a couple of ducklings in there — the pig pen, and finally the cow and horse barn. And we were just in time for the milking.
The kids weren’t quite sure what to make of it, and they didn’t get the whole concept of an udder worked. They gave it a try though, and weren’t as creeped out about it as I thought they would be. My wife Toni even did pretty well with it. She was used to farms, having spent a lot of time as a girl on her grandfather’s farm in East Central Indiana, but this was her first time milking a cow.
This was the closest I had been to a cow in years, but I knew how milking worked, having read up on it before we left home. After a quick explanation, I was off and milking. I could only do it one handed, not quite getting the rhythm of two-handed milking, but the cow didn’t complain or try to kick me once, so I counted it as a success.
After a tour of the rest of the building, including visiting the horses, and snapping some great pictures, we were all fairly hungry. We didn’t do as many chores as we thought we would — I was even dressed for it and everything — but it was morning, we were outside, and it was time to eat.
Triple XXX Family Restaurant
This was the crowning restaurant jewel of the entire trip. It seems like everyone has heard of the Triple XXX hamburger stand. We met Greg Ehresman, owner of the Triple XXX, and we got to hear all about the West Lafayette icon that is an Indiana first on many fronts.
It was Indiana’s first drive-in restaurant. It’s the first restaurant in Indiana to put peanut butter on a hamburger. And Greg owns one of the very first root beer brand names in history, Triple XXX. It was started in 1895 by Anheuser-Busch.
As we talked with Greg, and learned about the history of the restaurant, he told us that Sunday mornings is one of the busiest times of the week, other than the weekends. Every seat was full, and there were a handful of people waiting outside.
“That’s nothing,” said Greg. “Sometimes we’ll have 100 people waiting outside for a table, especially on football weekends.”
The menu is simple, the food is simple, and it’s good. I tried the Duane Purvis burger, the peanut butter burger, while everyone else had breakfast — Toni had the omelette, and thought it was great. “It had two eggs, which was the perfect amount.” My oldest daughter and son had the Triple XXX breakfast special, and my youngest daughter had the Bert Berger (with bacon). Everyone enjoyed their food, and the family took my word that the peanut butter burger was good (it was; trust me!)
As the owner of the Triple XXX root beer brand, Greg is working on other beverage products too, in the hopes of getting it into grocery stores as well. He’s working on a grape, orange, cream soda, and diet root beer.
We all got to try some root beer — when it’s something a restaurant is known for, you have to try it — and thoroughly enjoyed it. Most root beer is overly sweet, relying on sugar and lots of vanilla to give it its flavor. And Toni hates it. But she tried Greg’s root beer, more to be a sport than anything, and her eyes got wide when she got her first sip.
“Ooh, I like this,” she said. “I mean, I don’t like root beer at all, but I really like this.”
Apparently Toni’s not the only person to ever experience this. Greg said he’s always pleased to hear that, because it means he’s doing the right thing with his root beer. He only chooses the best, purest ingredients, and won’t buy cheaper ingredients or cut corners to save costs. That’s his philosophy in his restaurant (they still hand cut and grind their own sirloin every day), and that’s his philosophy for his root beer.
And if he keeps it up, you’re going to be seeing Triple XXX soft drinks in grocery stores near you in the very near future. But you’ll have to drive to West Lafayette for the burgers. And if you go on a football weekend, be prepared to wait 2 – 3 hours. It’s worth it.
After a very filling lunch, it was time to walk off some of that energy, so we headed to Exploration Acres to explore the corn maze.
We had skipped Exploration Acres the night before, because it was really cold, and no one was in the mood for a haunted maze (we’re a family of sissies when it comes to horror movies and the like). But we were up for a good old-fashioned corn maze. Exploration Acres is Indiana’s largest corn maze, covering 18 acres and 8 miles of paths (the final Notable on our weekend of Firsts, Onlys, and Notables). Well, I didn’t plan on covering all 8 miles, because I needed a nap. Toni offered to stay in the car to get a nap so she could drive home.
“I want to take the parrot!” said my son.
“That’s 2.7 miles, dude,” I said, thinking I just wanted to get back to be done soon.
“What about the pirate?”
“That’s 2.1 miles. Let’s just take the mermaid and see how ‘we’ feel.” ‘We’ were planning on being tired later, so we were going to leave once we made our way out of the maze.
We all held our maps, convinced we were going to stick to it, and beat this maze quick, and if there was time, head to another shorter maze.
“Daddy, put your map away,” ordered my youngest daughter. “Let’s just see where this thing goes.”
Rather than putting it away, I just followed along, but let them pick the paths we were going to take. I might as well have just tossed the map away, because I wasn’t able to follow it at all.
The problem is, when you go to a corn maze in October, the maze is harder to follow. For one thing, people have strayed outside the boundaries and worn shortcuts in between the paths. Do it enough times and a shortcut looks like a real path, and before you know it, what started out as the tail of the mermaid ends up being the pirate’s eye way over on the other side of the maze. Of course, the pirate may have also had other things on his mind, because it seemed like a direct path from his eye to her tail.
Still, we had a great time wandering the maze and spent nearly an hour in there before I spotted the tent over the five-and-a-half foot stalks (the drought didn’t help the corn this year), and headed everyone that way. The kids thought I was a navigational genius, until I told them how I did it, and then they thought I had cheated.
The lesson here is if you’re going to go to Exploration Acres, or any corn maze for that matter, make sure you go early in the season rather than later. Also, make sure at least one of you hangs on to the map, just in case you can still use it when you’re lost. And make sure everyone goes to the bathroom before you enter.
I’m just saying.
I always enjoy visiting different parts of my home state, and I have to say, Lafayette and West Lafayette was one of my favorite trips as an Indiana Insider travel writer. It had everything anyone could want — sports, history, arts, culture, good food, and good entertainment. You can relax for a nice fall weekend, or race around and do as much as you can. There’s always something to do in Tippecanoe County. The question is whether you’ll have time (or room in your belly) to take it all in.
Photo credit: Erik Deckers