Brian Fulmer and Nick Kessler have been in Titusville this week filming the best that the town has to offer.
They talked to Bill Stumpf at Drake Well Museum and Park, ate food from Curbside StrEAT Co. and Fat Chad’s Taproom and Steakhouse, stayed the night at the Caboose Motel and drove their 1968 Cadillac convertible all through town. Fulmer and Kessler are teachers during the school year, and when classes let out, they turn into TV show hosts.
As hosts of Road Trip Masters, the duo travels the country telling the story of small town America. Through talking to the people of town and visiting some marquee locations, they want to tell Titusville’s story to a national audience.
“You have your oil parade tomorrow. Every small town has something. Every small town has a story to tell, and those stories, usually, most of the time impact our nation’s history tremendously,” said Kessler. “Between just Heisman and the Drake Well, there is a lot of special things right here in Titusville that the world needs to know.”
When it comes to exploring rural America, Kessler and Fulmer are the perfect people to tell the stories of small towns. Both are from small rural towns, and growing up in rural communities really shaped the people they are today.
“Rural America, and I know this coming from a small town, we are the most accurate depiction of what America is about. We are the blue collar, we are the white collar, we are the ones that get out there and do small community events,” said Kessler.
Kessler is from Penn Argyl, Pennsylvania, a small town in the slate belt. Through his travels, he has found that there are hundreds of towns just like Penn Argyl that have stories to tell that are much larger than the small towns might let on.
“At one time, the slate belt produced most of the nation’s slate. These small towns all have a different story. The people that make up the community and make up the history of America need to be featured, need to have that voice,” he said. “That is what our show is about.”
To find the stories of the town, Kessler said he and his team do some research. However, no amount of research can tell them as much as a resident can. When they get to town, their ears are always open.
“This non-scripted formula has never let us down. People are proud to represent their town and want us to see the best in it,” he said.
The show knew before coming to town that they wanted to go to Warner’s Bakery and hear about the famous Smiley Cookies. After meeting Kathy Licht, they took her around for a car tour and she told them all about the special spots around town.
“People like Kathy and the lady at the Caboose Motel, who I call ‘Downtown Julie Brown,’ help us shorten the learning curve,” said Kessler.
Word of moth is how Kessler and Fulmer first heard about Titusville. Kessler said his son had a baseball game in Limeport, and went to the Limeport Inn for a bite to eat. The bartender at the inn was Brian Mitchum, a Titusville resident, who told Kessler that he had to check out Titusville and the Oil Festival.
Not every town that gets pitched to the hosts gets a visit. They have to have a main street of shops and eateries, and enough special locations to fill an episode.
For a lot of rural towns, that is a hard bill to meet. Just like Titusville, Kessler said he knows what it is like when the steel mills close. His home town is close to Bethlehem, Pa., and he has relatives that lost jobs when the mills closed.
Kessler used to go to Stroudsburg, Pa. to go Christmas shopping, and remembers how sad the town used to look.
“It was a depressed area. Now that main street has bounced back tremendously. There are these revitalization and roots to get back to small town America,” he said. “In the past 25 years, you have seen downtown revitalization. That is a big part of the show. We want to give these areas a voice.”
What really hurts is when these areas are gutted. “I can’t stand when history is erased and torn down,” he said.
Kessler and Fulmer spent time at the Titusville Iron Works on Friday, and Kessler said it took his breath away seeing a place with so much history turned into an asset for the community.
“Look at the collection. You can come down here to hang out and it is a fresh breath away from our mundane jobs,” he said. “The building has been repurposed and not torn down. It has a story to tell. I always think if every one of these bricks and steel girders could talk, the stories they would tell. The history, it is right here.”
The story of Titusville, as told by Road Trip Masters, might take longer than residents would expect to be told. Kessler said Titusville fans can expect the episode to air some time in the winter of 2023.
For more information on the show, and to find out what channels and platforms the episode might be on, go to RoadTripMasters.com. They also have a Facebook page where clips and photos of their journeys can be found.
Kessler and Fulmer will finish their filming in Titusville today after they participate in the Oil Festival. They will be riding in the parade in their gold Cadillac, and will be hard to miss.
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.