Wednesday, May 30, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 17. Michigan

Tuesday, May 29.

Crossed the MacBridge headed south for Grand Rapids. Susie got some bridge pictures from the co-pilot seat. The guard rails don't seem very high, particularly from the elevation of Tuzi's driver seat, and the lanes are narrow. Matt told us later that drivers are standing by: if you don't want to drive yourself, just tell the folks at the toll booth and they will summon someone to drive. We didn't have a problem, even changed lanes a couple of times. The inner lanes are metal grids that give you a buzz.

(After the bridge) the first 150 miles were almost all tree-tunnel. You know what they say about sled dogs: If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes. Well, in a tree-tunnel it doesn't matter who you are, the view never changes. Most of the time you can't even see the northbound lanes. Michigan! Show us your barns!

Finally, Magellan took us on a westward jog, two-lane highway with farms, homes, and businesses fronting it. Even found a stop for MacFudge (Mackinac Island Fudge) ice cream, though it took some fairly tight maneuvers going around a residential block after first pulling in to what I thought was parking space in front of an abandoned building, but it, the building, wasn't abandoned, so we had to squeeze out of there. On these town excursions you never know if you're going to encounter overhanging power lines and tree limbs, or a dead end. But, for MacFudge ice cream, the risk is worth it.

Wednesday, May 30.

After cold and wind a few days ago, summer is happening - warm, humid weather in Grand Rapids. Grand-daughter Kaci's HS graduation takes place in the football stadium in the evening and it's right pleasant. Kaci is class president but you would not know it from the program: it only lists a group as the class Executive Committee, alphabetically. All very egalitarian. The valedictorian and salutatorian are not identified, but they jointly give the commencement address. The program does identify, however, the cum laude, summa, and magna students, so excellence receives some recognition. (Pardon the curmudgeonism.) Kaci graduated cum laude and is headed for Baldwin-Wallace and their music program in the fall.

Here's a selection of graduation pictures.

With the proud parents (note Matt's Baldwin-Wallace cap):

With last year's graduate, brother Tony, now a student at the College of Santa Fe :

With both sets of grandparents. That's Alan and Elizabeth Anthony, from San Antonio, TX, now; they were living in Fort Davis, TX, when last we saw them on our trip to Big Bend. Kaci has two middle names - Sue Elizabeth - in honor of her two grandmothers.

Susie with all three grandkids - that's Andrew on the right.

Well, that's it for now. We'll be here through the weekend - graduation party, doing laundry, etc. - then off for Oklahoma for Easterling/Bennett family reunion next weekend.

Trip so far: 4100 miles. 1500 to go. Turns out that I had accidentally switched the odometer from miles to kilometers. In trying to recover from that I zeroed out the trip mileage for about 15 miles during which I figgered out what happened. So, as they say, actual mileage may vary from what I report, but close enough.


Rob and Susie

Monday, May 28, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 16. SD to MI

Sunday, May 27. We left Aberdeen early, heading east with a slight southerly dip. In sharp contrast with SD, as we cross Minnesota the towns become quite frequent - every 10 miles or so, even less - so it's pretty slow going. It's nice to see all the flags out along Main Street America, though. Got behind some slow pick-ups that I thought were probably being driven by some of those Norwegian bachelor farmers who figure in so many of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone stories.
Seeing the flags, we recalled that five years earlier, on an early Tuzigoot trip, what we called our 40daysand40nights tour, we were driving across northern Wisconsin on Memorial weekend Sunday and spotted a hand-written sign advertising a holiday lunch. It was lunch time, we stopped, and had a nice lunch and visit with the church folks putting on the lunch.

Anyhow, we eventually plunged into the Minneapolis freeway tangle and got through the Twin Cities via I-94 in early afternoon with pretty good ease - light traffic, the keep-lefts and keep-rights directions all timely and accurate from Magellan and from the MN DOT.
(I updated the Magellan software before we left home and it's doing strange things the original didn't. Most disconcerting, just after executing a turn as directed, Magellan will occasionally erroneously and immediately say, "When possible, make a legal U-turn." In a panic I check the map display and confirm I did right so I ignore the voice and continue. Magellan doesn't persist in her mistake or apologize (Susie says that just because "it" has a female voice, I shouldn't say "she" goofed). If I switched to the male voice, though, "he" wouldn't ask for directions from the big satellite in the sky and we would get hopelessly lost.)

After about a 400-mile day we stopped at a nice little campground near Chippewa Falls, WI for the night. Turned out to be free popcorn night! Picked this campground out of a guide we picked up at the WI welcome center, called and found out we could park in their overflow area - electricity only. This is fine and about all we could expect this holiday evening - manager helps us add water to the tank.

The next day we continue east on WI state hwy. 29 - a really beautiful four-lane road that goes right across the heart of Wisconsin with hardly a stoplight. (Only question: Why didn't they follow convention and assign an even number to an east-west highway? The campground manager called it a "new" highway, but that sort of new can be 20 years old or more.)
More majestic farm land. Not only barns but lots of silos, presumably for storing silage for feeding all those milk cows. Susie likes silos; I like barns. Hmm. I imagine the farmers bragging at the local coffee shop: Mine's taller than yours. Mine's bigger, volume-wise. I got more of them. If you stack all of mine on top of each other, I've got the most (volume). Etc. This sort of profound thinking helps pass the miles.

(Incidentally, I've about had it up to here with this magnificent Midwest farmland, barns, silos, churches, creeks and rivers, ... . How about you? I'm ready for mountains and mesas and bone-dry arroyos. Just kidding, sort of. Actually, we pledge that the next time we make this Aberdeen to Grand Rapids trek we'll take our time and devote a week or two to enjoying Wisconsin.)

Our goal today is a KOA campground on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. This will leave us with only a 250-mile day on Tuesday to get to Grand Rapids in time for dinner.

(The UP is another place we've vowed to spend some quality time in. This will be our third trip across it. Maybe more time next time.)
Magellan and Hwy 29 take us to the outskirts of Green Bay (I apologize to any Packer fans; thought about driving in to see hallowed Lambeau Field and maybe some cheeseheads, but skipped it). From there it's north and east toward the UP, land of Yoopers and pasties. In Oconto, WI, we're stopped to allow a Memorial Day parade to go by: a HS band, a Mid-school band, a trailer with veterans and flags, and a Cub Scout troup. That was it. Marvelous! Memorial Day parade with McDonald's in the background. America the Beauiful! Found some Memorial Day music on local radio and on XM, so it was a good day for remembrance and celebration.

Faithful readers may recall that we were in the UP in the fall of 05, in search of Grandma's pasties. Natives of the UP call themselves Yoopers. They regard themselves as partially frozen analogs of rednecks, but smarter. Yooper humor is pretty entertaining. Here's an example for you trolls down below:


In the beginning dere was nuttin.
Den on da first day God created da Upper Peninsula.

On da second day He created da partridge, da deer, da bear, da fish, and da ducks.

On da third day He said let dere be Yoopers to roam da Upper Peninsula.

On da fourth day He created da udder world down below.

On da fifth day He said "Let dere be trolls to live in da world down below."

On da sixth day he created da bridge so da trolls would have a way to get to heaven.

God saw it was good and on da seventh day He went huntin.

In turn, Yoopers created pasties - meat and potatoes in a pastry shell. In '05 we came across this pasty shop - a special place, left-side picture. You can look our report up here: Well, we found it again on this trip. So, if you're ever on the UP, on US-2 about 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge, stop here for home-made pasties.

And ice cream. I got an ice cream cone - Mackinac Island Fudge, which I'd been looking for and thinking of all afternoon. That was my favorite flavor when we were in Ann Arbor.

We picked up a couple of pasties for dinner. Susie fixed gravy. Great meal! ! I think, though, that pasties would benefit by adding chopped Hatch green chile to the contents. There's an idea. This morning, 5/30, I had left-over pasty with an egg and salsa on top. Call it Pasty Ranchero. Somebody should start a Youper-Mexican restaurant: We've got you covered, border to border.
Got checked in to the KOA, this one a disappointment - high in price and low on convenience, readiness, and staff helpfulness - then went to St. Ignace for provisions (that's a town not a local holy man), and took a picture of the Bridge.

Here's a night view off of the internet:

Saw another pasty sign we couldn't pass up. I wanted Susie to pose in front of it. She said it wasn't spelled right for her, but it surely referred to daughter-in-law Suzy whom we will soon see in Grand Rapids.


Rob and Susie

Sunday, May 27, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 15. SoDak

Thursday, May 24.

After the Music Museum, we got to Sioux Falls in mid-afternoon and made ourselves at home via Valerie's hidden housekey. While Jeff is in Aberdeen, Valerie continues at her Sioux Falls probation officer job and keeps the house ready to show potential buyers. Dinner (Valerie is a great cook), visiting, and clothes-washing pretty well finished the evening for us all.

Valerie provided Susie with a protective shoe for her injured foot - Valerie had a broken foot not long ago - and that has proven very helpful. Susie continues to progress (this is being written May 27), but it remains to be seen if she will be dancing at Kaci's graduation party next Saturday. I took a picture of her multi-colored foot - mostly green and black - but she doesn't want me to show it.

Friday, after a couple of morning errands, we had lunch with Valerie, then headed north to Aberdeen. Here's a picture I shot while driving - looks kinda like a Microsoft screen saver. Do you see any bugs on the windshield? Lots of pretty shades of green in the South Dakota landscape right now. In the weekend USA Today there was an article about 15 destinations to see. One was South Dakota. Writer said take your kids and drive west across the state on I-90 just to show them how big this country is -- what it's like to have miles and miles of just grass and sky. Awesome! See Wall Drug!

It was cold and windy in Aberdeen - lows in 40s, highs in 50s the two days we were there. Jeff had gotten permission for us to park in front of the Holiday Inn Express where he is staying. We had dinner and he drove us around to look at the exteriors and neighborhoods of some houses he has looked at. A couple of places were located on a lake several miles out in the country.

We had planned to sleep in TuziTwo but as cold as it was we weren't too sure about staying warm enough without either running the generator or the batteries more than I wanted. So, we got a room in the Inn. WimpsRUs. Free breakfast with it, though.

Saturday it was even colder and windier. We went to Jeff's ShopKo store - the one he's now managing, the saner upper Midwest alternative to Wal-Mart and Target - and stocked up on some needed items. We then toured the city and countryside some more looking at houses for sale. There aren't many and they seem pricier than you might think - supply and demand at work. The town has 1% unemployment and Jeff says it is very hard to fill vacancies in his store. Valerie is coming up next weekend for some serious house-looking.

How windy was it? At one point we were driving along a highway, downwind, about 60 mph, and I looked to our right and above and there was a duck, flapping his wings as fast as possible and, it seemed to me, with a smile on his face. Having a great time. He stayed with us for a quarter of a mile. I kid you not! Also, Jeff said you generally see a lot of pheasants along the roads. Not today, pheasants were grounded by a high wind advisory.

There's a lot of water in this part of the state - lakes, ponds, creeks, marshes, and rivers. Jeff says a large portion of the country's duck population is South Dakota born and bred. He's looking forward to fishing and hunting opportunities in the area. Also, now, there's a lot of water standing in ditches and low spots in the fields. Three weeks ago Aberdeen had major flooding - same time as the Greensburg torndado, so it didn't get the publicity it might have. We saw many houses that were orange-tagged as unsafe for habitation. Mostly it's a case of basement walls being so damaged that the house may collapse. We said, Well, at least now you know what parts of town you don't want to buy a house in.

Here are some Aberdeen pictures Valerie sent us a couple of weeks ago -- probably not from their real estate agent. What's that motor home doing out there!

After we left I looked up Aberdeen in Wikipedia and found ironically that in the late 1890s it was known as "The Town in the Frog Pond" because of its proclivity for flooded basements in rainy times. The more things change, ... . When the city dug a ditch to provide drainage they hit an artesian pool that flooded the area they were trying to protect.

You will be interested to know that Wikipedia has a paragraph about the May 2007 flood. How's that for timeliness. Aberdeen had 5.8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period breaking previous record of 4.0 inches. Welcome to Aberdeen, Jeff and Valerie. I had told Jeff, though, that since they'd just had their 100 year flood, statistically speaking, there was nothing to worry about.

Actually, we liked the town - nice mix of old and new and not as crowded and traffic-clogged as the metropolis of Sioux Falls. We went out for Mexican food Saturday noon. Jeff shook his head: "What's an Albuquerque boy doing eating Mexican food in Aberdeen, South Dakota?" "Next stop, Fargo," I said helpfully.

Incidentally, the preferred label for Aberdeen is the Hub City, because several railroads intersected here.
We decided we wanted to spend Saturday night in the Inn, also, but they had no room. We waited until 6:00 pm, the cancellation deadline, but no dice. We called a few other motels: same story. There are many flood victims still in motels, plus FEMA agents, and this is both Memorial Day and graduation weekends. There's a college here - Northern State U. There's one campground in town, but we checked twice and it had no slots available. Went to Plan C - Jeff slept on the fold-out couch in his room, we slept in his bed. Worked fine for one night. Helped us get an early start on Sunday morning. Heading for Grand Rapids, MI, around the top, i.e., - via the You Pee (Upper Peninsula). Will be a three-day trip, about 1000 miles.

We've now been on the road a month. The trip mileage odometer got messed up, so I don't have an accurate mileage reading. Too bad there's not a statistician around here. Be home in just over two weeks.


Rob and Susie

Friday, May 25, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 14, Across Iowa

May 20 - Sunday. It's on from Dubuque to Ames, Iowa, with a stop along the way in Dike. This is the home of Bill Hinkle, cousin to Susie's late husband, Manny. It worked out fortuitously that we met with Bill and his wife, Corrine, at their Church just as a potluck lunch was finishing, but not so late that we couldn't have lunch there, which we did. We said next time we'll try to be in time for church before we eat. Had a nice visit and a tour of Dike. Sorry, for you family members, that we failed to get a picture of the Hinkles.

Got to Ames in late afternoon, parked TuziTwo in the conference hotel's parking lot and checked into the hotel - treating ourselves to three nights in hotel because there didn't seem to be any campgrounds close enough to campus and this way Susie would have the car during the day, which she used to good advantage.

Conference went well, too. I had organized two sessions and modestly included myself as a speaker in one of them. Some last minute schedule changes had me concerned about attendance, because of timing (8:00 am on final half-day of the conference) and competition with other sessions, but these proved unfounded as both sessions attracted a substantial part of the 90 or so conference attendees. Good discussions and reactions, too.

On Wednesday morning, the plan was that I would get back to the hotel in time to load our stuff and check out. However, friend Max Morris, fellow Oklahoma State U grad and now on the faculty of Iowa State University, invited me to come visit hallowed Snedecor Hall, home of the university's Department of Statistics and Statistical Laboratory. (Earlier in the week I had said I wanted to go and this was the first opportunity - having been riveted to conference presentations on statistics all week.)

The Statistical Laboratory is an independent unit that provides campus-wide consulting. It was the first such organization in the country - established in 1927 - and the Department was one of the first (along with North Carolina State U.) in the country, established in 1935 as a section of the Agricultural Experiment Station, then as a department in 1947. George Snedecor was the leader in all this, with a boost from Henry Wallace, who went on to be Sec. of Agriculture and Vice President of the USA. All the big names in statistics in the early years visited here or were on the faculty. Graduates of the program started the statistics department at Oklahoma State University, and, as far as I'm concerned, the rest is history.

Anyhow, Max gave me a tour of the building and I got to see, among other things, a collection of historical calculating machines that Department member Bill Meeker had assembled for 60th anniversary observance. In the very early years the "computer room" was where a bunch of "computers" (generally ladies) punched in numbers and turned cranks to produce more numbers. When I went to Sandia Labs in 1967 I remember wanting to be sure that they had the Monroe calculators I was used to - ISU had one of those. I guess I should say something profound here about the advance of computing over my career, but I'll take a pass.

Max and I also took a scenic stroll around campus. Here's a picture off of the ISU website.

Snedecor Hall is going to be gutted starting this winter and the interior modernized. Max said that when plans were made to modernize another historic hall on campus, the choice was to tear it down, then build a new building that would look just like the old one, for X million dollars, or to keep the building shell, gut it and rebuild internally for 2X million dollars,. The latter plan was the decision. Don't touch those hallowed brick walls!

One other piece of trivia: Ames was named for a Massachusetts congressman who was influential in getting a RR routed through the unnamed hamlet. They invited him out for the dedication; he stayed about three hours and was reported to be very bewildered by it all.

I had called Susie and said I would be late, maybe she could have our check-out time extended. Well, there wasn't that much to load, so Susie went ahead. All went well until on the last trip into the hotel she slipped on some wet steps leading to the hotel. Fell hard, really twisting her foot and banging her head on a bannister. When I got back, she was in TuziTwo fighting back tears. It hurt and it made her mad. She had turned to look at someone who came up behind her as she started down the stairs and that distraction led to the slip and the fall.

We decided to go to emergency room to see if anything was broken. Very pleasant and efficient staff at the ER. Foot was not broken and CAT scan of Susie's head showed nothing - wrong. Very painful, though (her foot), and difficult to walk. She didn't think crutches would help, particularly in motor home, so we opted not to get crutches.

We went back to TuziTwo, hooked up, and left Ames about 4:00 pm. Things could have been worse; things could have been better. We, especially Susie, will just cope. The foot, however, is providing us with many stages of swelling and coloration changes. Susie thinks it may be the Lord's way of saying that she has bought enough shoes on this trip. We didn't think we would try to get to Sioux Falls, SD, but Sioux City, SD, looked to be in range as well as having a KOA. Drove through some heavy rain - flooding reported in Iowa a day later - and got to the KOA about 8:00 pm. Still lots of daylight at this northern latitude this time of year.

No hurry to get to Sioux Falls the next day - Thursday. Jeff is at his new store in Aberdeen and Valerie is at work. Real estate agents may be showing the house, so we wouldn't want to be in the way. It had rained all night and rain continued most of the morning. Haven't detected any leaks - last fall we did have some.)

Stopped at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, along the way. Susie stayed in TuziTwo, resting her injured foot, while I toured. Lots of historic instruments, many of which you could hear played on the portable audio system you could carry.

Here's the Stradivari case. Strad made not only violins but also violas, guitars, and a mini-mandolin.

Of course there was a banjo display, but they didn't have a recording to listen to. At least they didn't have a display of shameful anti-banjo jokes like they did at the Owensboro Bluegrass Museum.

Here's a novelty double horn.

A Civil War display was interesting. Several instruments, like trumpets and basses, were made with over-the-shoulder facing bells so that the troops marching along behind could hear the music better. I bought a CD called Custer's Last Band -- music he favored. It's got several nice brass band numbers.

Update, Sunday, May 27: Susie's foot still very tender, swelling and turning technicolors, but it's getting better.

Cheers for now,

Rob and Susie

Thursday, May 24, 2007

SpringTrip07-Report 13. Dubuque

Report 13. Dubuque

But first ... John Deere addendum: Was curious about history of John Deere company and when they got into tractors. Some info from the company website: John’s son, Charles, took over the company reins in 1859, at age 21, and ran it for 49 years. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Deere got into the tractor business; apparently Ford and International Harvester were the first companies doing tractors. During the Depression, the company carried debtor farmers, which earned them gratitude and loyalty. Recently, they provided free equipment for the Greensburg, KS tornado clean-up.

May 18. Our quest for an RV park with wi-fi led us to the Rustic Barn RV Park in Kieler, Wisconsin, just across the Mississippi from Dubuque, Iowa. I'm a sucker for barn RV parks. Here’s the barn and our view of America‘s Dairyland from the park.

Turned out wi-fi didn’t reach much beyond the porch, certainly not to our site, but the park had an ethernet connection in the office that we used quite a bit - to send out the last batch of breathlessly-awaited blogs. (Incidentally, Blogger doesn’t seem to be able to reproduce double dashes. Or maybe the problem is that I’m typing reports in Word, then copying and pasting them into Blogger later when I can get an internet connection. I’m going to try single dashes and see if that translates.)

In early afternoon we headed for the Field of Dreams movie site - near Dyersville, around 25 miles west of Dubuque. If you build it he will come. I had wanted to see this place for a long time – holy soil for baseball fans. We had to skip it last time through the state, last year, in the interest of time. Ample time on this trip. Here’s a picture of owner, Don Lansing, and myself.
Just as we pulled up a traveling softball team was taking pictures and leaving the field. There are no organized games on the field, but groups are allowed to play a little ball when they visit. we left, a school field trip showed up and took the field. Field trips give Susie Schoolmarm the willies.

It turns out that the Field straddles two separately owned properties. The movie folks located it for lighting and sight lines. Don Lansing owns the farm and most of the field, but the property line runs across left and center field. There are two souvenir stands – one on each property. Also two signs and two access roads off the highway. There’s a sign on Lansing’s property saying don’t shop over there – it’s owned by an investment banking group (boo! hiss!). We got to visit with Don Lansing and he said he and the other owner tried to work something out, but couldn’t. The present owners wanted to put in several fields and make it a baseball/softball complex. Make lots of money. Lansing just wants to preserve it the way it was for the movie, keep it low-key, supported by sales and donations, not admission charges. He was a nice guy to visit with.

Here's close-up of house and barn. The Lansings do not live on the property – they have a new house across the road.

We bought souvenirs from the Lansing's shop and went back to Dubuque. I had spotted a Catfish Charlie’s restaurant in a brochure and that led to a fine meal, sitting on a deck overlooking the Mississippi.

I think there should be a partnership between Dubuque and Albuquerque – and any other cities ending in que. Are there any? (Martinique?) Other things in common: Dubuque’s airport code is DBQ and Albuquerque’s is ABQ. Both are situated on the bank of a great River. Both have casinos on their peripheries. Probably other similarities to bring us together.

Saturday we took a lunch cruise on the Mississippi in a stern-wheeler. That was restful and scenic. Learned that there are about 17 sets of locks and dams on the river between St. Louis and Minneapolis, authorized, I think, in the 1930s and built to permit river barge traffic and shipping through the upper Midwest.

The scene below on the river reminded me of a story I read in "Uncommon Carriers," by John McPhee. The book is about the shipping industry - planes, trains, trucks, barges. McPhee rode with a crew pushing barges on the Illinois River, rather narrow and shallow compared to the Mississippi. One big hazard was pleasure-boaters, whipping around the barges and tugboats. On the other hand, the crew fantasized about pleasure-boats on which gorgeous women would, uh, reveal themselves as they cruised past. Well, it actually happened when McPhee was on board - spectacularly, as I recall the story. The most excitement we had, Susie and I, was watching a couple struggling to control a sailboat as we went by.

On Friday we had taken picture of the Dubuque courthouse. One of the paddle-wheeler's crew told me that this county courthouse is the only gold-domed government building in Iowa besides the capital building.

Followed our cruise by strolling through a downtown art festival, then I rode the world’s shortest, steepest railway(though this claim is disputed), called the Fourth Street Elevator, also called the Fenelon Place Elevator. It’s 296 feet long with an elevation rise of 189 feet to the top of the bluff overlooking downtown DBQ. This means it has an angle of 41 degrees, pretty steep. Story is that a Dubuque banker didn’t like to use a half hour of his one and a half hour lunch break just getting home. So, he built this funicular in 1882. It’s been burned and replaced a couple of times, but it’s still operating.

On the way into Dubuque the previous day we had come through St. Donatus, a Luxembourger settlement. Two large churches (I dubbed them St. Donations) stood out on opposite hills so we decided to go back for a closer look. They were both open. A nice lady chatted with us in the Lutheran church shown below – she might have been the preacher. Both had elegant sanctuaries. We had thought there might be shops or restaurants displaying the Luxembourg heritage, but there weren’t. After we left Dubuque I found brochure describing some old houses and barns off on a side road from Saint Donatus.

So, that's the Dubuque story. Tomorrow it's on to Ames.


Rob and Susie

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 12

Report 12.

May 17 continued

Ronald Reagan's hometown, Dixon, IL sits astride the Rock River. We continued a few miles up river to Grand Detour, wondering why they called it that. Turns out that that is anglicized French for "Big Bend." The Rock River makes a sharp U at this point. The Indians said that the river is so beautiful that it just had to turn around to look at itself. Check it out.

Susie says, why are we going here? Because the John Deere Historic Site is here, I say. Susie’s recalling a New Zealand historic site that we were directed to only to find a small sign saying this is a historic site. Her expectations are low. But, this turns out to be quite a find, thanks particularly to Rick the blacksmith.

First of all, John Deere was a person, not just a tractor brand. Rick asks us, If John Deere was alive today, what would he be known for? The tractor, we say. Wrong, says Rick. He’d be known for being over 200 years old! He was born in 1804.

Well, we’ve already seen the introductory video so we know that Deere’s contribution to farming was the “mould board plow.” We just played straightpersons for Rick. When John came to Grand Detour from Vermont in 1837 to set up a blacksmith shop, there was a problem: the cast iron plow that worked well in the sandy soil in the northeast couldn’t handle the Midwest’s thicker, gummier soil. The soil stuck to the blade and balled up and the plow wouldn’t plow. Deere’s solution was a highly polished, carefully curved, steel blade. It was self-cleaning. So, that’s why there are farms, not just prairie, in the Midwest today. The pioneers turned the soil, one furrow at a time, thanks to John Deere’s plow.

I asked about the term mould board. In my youth I had heard my grandpa Bennett and others talk about a mow-board plow. Didn’t know what that was and didn’t want to ask. There’s no good answer, Rick said. Earlier plows had a moulded board to which the cast iron blade was attached, so that seems the logical explanation. Deere replaced that assembly with a single curved steel piece, but didn’t change the name.

Business flourished and about 10 years later, Deere relocated to Moline, IL, on the Mississippi. He had been using a horse on a treadmill to power his shop. He could use river power in Moline (the Rock River wasn’t deep enough for a mill at Grand Detour). Rick told us that Deere created the assembly line long before Henry Ford. There are two of Deere’s original plows in existence: one at the Smithsonian, one at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

Rick's story was interesting. He got into blacksmithing years ago because his wife owned horses. He became friends with the local blacksmith and worked with him part time. Then he got divorced and quit blacksmithing. He joined the Air Force and had a 20+ year career. Somehow he happened across the Deere Historical Site and found they were looking for a blacksmith. He took the job. He looks the part -- large guy with bushy beard -- and he puts on a show. After telling us the Deere story he showed us an iron rod and said there was a leaf inside just trying to get out. So, he pumped the bellows, heated the rod, and pounded out a leaf. You can see Rick's picture at the above Deere website.
At the Deere Historic Site, they have excavated and located his blacksmith shop. The house Deere built and lived in with his family is also on the site:

Also, the surrounding residential area in Grand Detour is really beautiful.

After this there was one more county courthouse to see, in Oregon, IL, then back to Amboy for dinner and back to Yogi Bear for the night. This was a day that we need to do more of. Pick a location and spend a day, or more, exploring it in detail. Don’t just pass through on the way to somewhere else.

Next stop: Dubuque, Iowa, just 150 miles up the road. We’ve decided to spend a couple of nights there before proceeding on to Ames on Sunday.


Rob and Susie

Sunday, May 20, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 11

Thursday, May 17, we spend the day exploring nearby towns and villages. Tampico is where Ronald Reagan was born; Dixon is what he considered his home town and where he graduated from HS. Grand Detour is home to John Deere’s home and museum. There are also county courthouses to see and beautiful residential areas with large, old homes with wrap-around screened porches, set on spacious tree-shaded properties. Everything is fresh and green now, not wilted by summer, and lots of May flowers. There are museums in most towns, but we didn’t have time for any of these besides the Reagan and Deere sites. The countryside is sprinkled with proud, sturdy farms and barns sitting on the prairie that was turned into productive farmland (thanks to John Deere). Susie says it just makes her feel good to see the farmers working their land. Gives me a charge, too. And another thing that makes you feel really good are the volunteer workers in the museums. They know and love their subject and they’re eager to tell you about it and grateful that you came to see them. Dedicated, gracious people, usually seasoned citizens. Is this a great country, or what?

Ronald Reagan was born in an apartment over a bakery in downtown Tampico (pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable). His father, Jack, worked in a dry goods store across the street. When Ronald was born (1909), weighing 10 lbs., Jack said, He looks like a fat Dutchman. Hence the nickname, Dutch. Previously his brother Neil was dubbed Moon, because Jack said he looked like Moon Mullins. Good thing there wasn’t a girl in the family.

The apartment was spacious – three good-sized bedrooms – not what you might expect for turn of the last century small-town living quarters. (One thing we learned is that residences of the time tended not to have closets. If the tax assessor could walk into an enclosure, he counted it as a room and taxes were based on the number of rooms a home had.) The apartment is furnished with period pieces – Reagan moved his parents to California after he became successful in Hollywood and the possessions they left in storage burned. When the restoration was done many years later, Dutch and Moon went through old Montgomery Wards and Sears catalogs picking out furniture that looked familiar.

The lady who showed us through the museum and apartment set the tone for the day – a very gracious, knowledgeable person; wish I’d gotten her name. The little museum has lots of photos and memorabilia, including something like 35 original movie posters from Reagan’s 59 movies. Ronald and Nancy were in only one movie together – Hellcats of the Navy. The Tampico website has a large collection of photos.

Reagan visited the Tampico museum while president – an imprint on the carpet says “Ronald Reagan stept here.” When his body was flown from Washington to California three years ago, Air Force One flew low over Tampico. Everybody was out in main street. A great thrill for the town. Now there’s a beauty shop in town named Hair Force One.

The museum has some playbills for a Tampico theater group, listing Mrs. Reagan, Nelle, as a performer. She gave dramatic readings and taught elocution. Also took in sewing to help support the family. Guides at both Tampico and Dixon told us that she was a strong, practicing Christian. In Dixon, she provided newly released prisoners room and board to help them back into society. It’s clear she had a strong influence on Ronald. I need to read his autobiography to get a fuller feel for this. I did read a good book recently, “The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister” by John O’Sullivan. That book emphasizes Reagan’s spirituality as a contributor to these three remarkable leaders’ efforts to free Eastern Europe from Russian control.

It’s theologically interesting: Jack and Neil were Catholics; Nelle and Ronald were members of the Church of Christ in Tampico, the Christian Church in Dixon. Must have been some sort of family deal.

The Reagan family lived in various Illinois towns after Tampico and settled in Dixon in 1920 where Jack ran a shoe store.. Their Dixon home was restored in 1984 and the Reagans were there to celebrate the restoration and his birthday. One of his comments on video: “How did they shrink it?” The house was smaller than he remembered it and indeed is more cramped than the Tampico apartment. Nelle kept one bedroom for guests and the two boys shared a small bedroom.

The Dixon museum plays a video of Reagan reminiscing (the guide, who must have heard the video hundreds of times, said hearing his voice makes it seem like he’s still alive). Did he ever get in trouble? Well, he did get caught setting off illegal fireworks and his dad had to bail him out of jail. He was band drum major and one time in a parade he noticed the sound of the band was fading, turned around and realized he was off the parade route; the band had followed the route, not him. Susie, a HS drum major, identifies with this. One time she strutted her stuff onto the football field and at about the 50 yard line realized that she had not signaled the band to follow – they were still waiting in the end zone! She recovered nicely and the show went on.

Five of us were in our tour group. After the tour a man in the group went to his car and brought back a picture of himself with the Reagans, inscribed with a note from Ronald, thanking him for keeping him supplied with beef jerky. As a teenager, this fellow had participated in the 1980 campaign – said he was with Reagan for the whole campaign, the youngest member of the staff (unpaid, but the experience of a lifetime, obviously). He lives in Colorado and I think the story was that he was moving his son’s belongings home from college, stopped here, and remembered that the picture was in his stuff.

There are also some Abraham Lincoln connections to Dixon. He served in the army there as a young man during the Black Hawk Indian War. Here is a commemorative statue – said to be the only statue of Lincoln in uniform. Later a Lincoln-Douglas debate was held in Dixon and the hotel where he slept still exists.

May 17 story to be continued. Next up: John Deere.

Let us hear from you.

Rob and Susie

Saturday, May 19, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 10

Tuesday, May 15, we leave Nashville, en route, leisurely, to Ames, Iowa for a conference starting the following Monday. Our first planned stop: the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY. We find it, park, and enjoy. The museum has nice exhibits, historic photos, and lots of good music to listen to. Here’s a picture of the Seldom Scene band, circa the mid-70s when we were living in the Washington, D.C. area and the group that turned me into a bluegrass fan. Also a picture of three who started it all: Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs.

Late afternoon we cross the Ohio River to Santa Claus, IN – Lake Rudolph RV Resort. This (very large and highly-rated) campground is near an amusement park and a water park, but all is quiet now. Before we go to bed, Susie hears a mouse trap snap. Sure enough, it worked. We hope that’s the only mouse, but we set traps again. We have some hard rain and then it rains all night. No TV reception here; also no wi-fi internet access where we are parked (memo to self: when checking in ask for a spot with good wi-fi reception.). I discover that we can get wi-fi at a picnic shelter on higher ground, closer to the office, so we try to watch Dancing With The Stars there via internet. All we get, however, is stuff from the previous night. Somehow couldn’t get set up to stream it live. Camping life on the road is tough.

Wednesday we’re heading for NW IL – Reagan country. About 400 miles to go, Magellan has laid out an interstate route, which is OK with me for the sake of time, but Magellan doesn’t know the on-ramp to I-64 is closed and the alternate route sign can’t be read – due to wind and rain (Oh, the dreadful wind and rain – that’s a line in a folk song about a beautiful young woman who is murdered and her body parts are later used to make a fiddle) which has made the sign unreadable. So we just keep going north and work our way up the SW side of IN before crossing into IL at Terre Haute. This has taken us through really beautiful country and we’re glad for the closed on-ramp that put us on highways instead of interstates. Susie shoots this courthouse on the fly.

One intersection points to French Lick, IN, so that leads to a few minutes of thinking about Larry Bird, as does Terre Haute, home of IN State U, where he played. Also brings Bob King to mind who coached there after coaching at UNM. We find a place for lunch just down the street from this courthouse in T-H.

Illinois’s flatness always impresses me. On this route we see a few hills, slightly rolling country, but not enough to revise my impression. I think there must be a statistical way to measure and compare the flatness of states, but I haven’t pursued that yet. Now we’re on interstates. Incidentally, the weather has turned cool – 60s now mid-day vs. 80s two days earlier in TN. Windy, too.

We go by Bloomington, IL, home of Colonel Henry Blake of MASH. Last year, we were disappointed that Ottumwa, IA didn’t honor Radar O’Reilly, didn’t even acknowledge him(!) except on a wall of an Applebee’s (we were told), so I’m not even going to check for any Col. Blake tribute here. Couldn’t take another shattering disappointment.

With a little bit of difficulty (we're routed off the highway through a residential area with low-hanging branches, but we persist), Magellan gets us to the Yogi Bear campground. However, it’s closed when we get there. Usually late arrivals can just pick a site and pay in the morning. Here there’s a barrier across the entry. There is an emergency number posted, so I call that and a maintenance guy shows up and lets us in and we settle in. There’s been no mouse evidence today and no traps go off overnight, so it looks like we just had a solo traveler.

Yogi Bear campgrounds – we’ve stayed at two now -- are summer resorts: several hundred sites, most of them occupied by year-round mobile homes, “park models” (cottages on a mobile home frame), camping trailers, and a few motor homes. Decks, porches, and landscaping have been added. There’s a lake, swimming pools, game rooms, miniature golf, etc. People spend summer weekends and vacations at their wheeled, but immobile, summer homes at these resorts. Like this one:

The Yogi campground we’re in is near Amboy, Illinois. Susie says as she lay in bed it came to her that town and state rhyme. Fascinating.

Lakeside culture is a big part of Midwest life. Often you see lakes ringed with summer homes and cabins. Yogi Bear resorts are trailerized versions of that. Right now, not many people are here, but there’s lots of work going on getting ready for Memorial Day weekend when I’m sure the crowds will materialize and the busy season will start. Oh, the wi-fi is not strong enough to use at our site. I wonder if I should have parked elsewhere, but the next morning I’m told that a wire got cut or something, so wi-fi is not available. This is delaying our blog-posting and I’m sure many of you have been wondering when will the next post appear. Hope the wait was worth it.
Rob and Susie

Friday, May 18, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 9

Saturday, May 12, 3007:

On Saturday the nearby town of Old Hickory is holding a town-wide garage sale. I drive around sampling a few offerings and then find Old Hickory United Methodist Church and its members’ garage sale. They’ve got quite a few books for sale and I find a few paperbacks. (Note: Old Hickory is a town built by DuPont which has a large plant there. Albuquerque friends Alan and Julie Eaton work there. You may recall that on our fall 05 New England trip we stopped to visit them and their family in Delaware. They’ve since transferred to Nashville and work in the Old Hickory facility. An update and picture below.)

Next I head downtown to Elder’s book store, located near Vanderbilt U. I get there early, before it opens, so I go to the nearby Soda Shop café for breakfast. I find out later that it’s listed in our Roadfood book. Lucky me to happen upon it. The book says the Soda Shop opened in 1939 and has scarcely changed since. It’s known for great biscuits and waitresses with an attitude. I experienced the first, not the latter. There’s a jukebox in every booth. I put a quarter in but it doesn’t drop. Waitress has obviously seen this happen before. She shows up with a piece of scotch tape and says, Here, you can pull it out with this. I wonder if none of the jukeboxes work, or just mine. At any rate, I enjoy a country ham and biscuits and eggs breakfast – just what I would have ordered if I had read the Roadfood write-up ahead of time.

Elder’s is a treasure trove of old books, stacked and piled everywhere. The website says it's often been listed as the best bookstore in the South! The books are organized in sections, but within sections I don’t see any alphabetic or other rhyme or reason behind the organization. In some sections you will see a sign saying, For more X books, look in the Y section or ask for assistance. The search is part of the experience. Of course if you’re just browsing, waiting for something to catch your eye, I guess order is not that important. If you have something in mind, when you ask the owner or, he can usually go right to it. The store has a huge collection of Civil War books, so if that’s your interest, if you’re ever in Nashville, check out Elder’s.

There are lots of signs, such as: Don’t handle these books, Don’t stand on this chair, Ask for help in removing books from this shelf. … . In the Religion section: Please refrain from loud Bible discussions in this area (must be a story behind that one). Also: If you just like to handle Bibles, go to a church or library. I spend a couple of hours in Elder’s and leave with only a “facsimile first edition” of Grapes of Wrath – my choice for best book ever. I had sort of been looking for books on World War II battles in the Pacific, based on our Fredericksburg museum visit, but didn’t find any stand-out books on this topic. Most books, I think, I would only like to read once, so I’ll make notes and maybe check them out of a library some day.

Sunday we go to church and brunch with Paul, Mandi, and Heidi. That afternoon we visit the Eatons. Alan and Julie have four kids under six years of age. The youngest are twins. The house pulses with energy. It’s simply amazing to see. Occasionally, grandparents Roger and Donna Eaton fly to Nashville to stay with the kids when Alan and Julie both have to be away – they both work for DuPont. When they come home it’s like Wow and Whew (and those are just the twins!).

Sunday evening Mandi and Heidi treat Susie to Mother’s Day dinner at The Palm – Paul and I get to go, too. Very nice meal, though once again, as in Doe’s, I wrongly pick a seafood dish in a steak house Just before we went to dinner I found that my camera is not working – the lens jams as it tries to close. I go to plan B: this picture of the three girls was taken with Susie’s camcorder which also takes stills.

Monday I call a couple of camera repair shops, but nobody in town works on digital cameras. Nevertheless, I take it to a shop that says they will mail it in to Sony for me. I just want an expert to diagnose the problem. Tech looks at it: says your lens is so dirty it’s a wonder you get any pictures (I hadn’t noticed any problem). Then he finds that there appears to be sand in the lens mechanism (Did you take it to the beach?), keeps it from extending and retracting. He obviously thinks I’m not fit to use a camera, but he spray-cleans/lubes it and all is OK!

Also, Monday, Susie discovers evidence that TuziTwo is now occupied by a mouse. (We’ve been sleeping in the house. Tuzi is parked in driveway; when their house was built, Paul and Mandi had the driveway extended to accommodate a motor home.) I buy some “modern” (build a better mousetrap … “) traps at Lowe’s traps, but they don’t work – the mechanism is too stiff; mouse gets cheese without suffering extreme penalty. So Tuesday I get some old-fashioned spring type traps from Home Depot. We’d tried these at home before (we occasionally get mice in our garage) and I hadn’t been able to set the traps – couldn’t set the spring and trigger mechanism. Well, I have trouble again – mechanism goes off, repeatedly, while I’m trying to set it, but fortunately, doesn’t catch me. All fingers are intact. Susie gets so tickled she can’t stand it – but eventually I get a couple of them set.

Tomorrow it's off on a slow trip to Ames, Iowa for a statistics conference. This is going to be good!


Rob and Susie

Friday, May 11, 2007

SpringTrip07-Report 8

May 9. Our first objective is a Flying J station near Shreveport. Flying J's generally have the best prices, they have a dedicated RV pump island and a 1 cent/gallon (!) discount card. But, they generally have lines of RVs waiting and antiquated pumps. I often end up going inside to tell a clerk what pump I'm on. At any rate, on the way, just leaving Carthage, TX, I spot out of the corner of my eye a Jim Reeves Memorial Park. There had been no advance notice that I’d seen and there wasn’t a place to stop. I consider returning, but this is going to be a long day, so I decide against it.

Jim Reeves was one of my Dad’s favorite singers. Carthage (I learn after getting to Nashville and internet access) was Reeves' home town. He died in a plane crash in 1964. He was flying the plane and evidence is that he was disoriented, flying upside down, so that when he tried to fly over a storm cloud he actually flew the plane into the ground.
I also learn that Carthage is home to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. If I’d known that, I’d certainly have stopped. First year's inductes (1998) included Reeves, Tex Ritter (also from this county), Willie Nelson, and Gene Autry. Pretty impressive. Bob Wills didn't get elected until 2000. That's an outrage!

After gassing up, diesel for Tuzi (it seems like diesel prices so far are about 25cents less than regular gas -- which seems unusual, but hey, we've only been in Texas so far), junk food for us, our plan is to cross Louisiana on I-20 to Vicksburg, MS, then plot a route to Nashville from there. But, I-20 is just a boring tree tunnel, nothing to see but the same thing mile after mile. Moreover, the trees are tall enough and thick enough to cut off the XM satellite radio signal. Oh, woe is us. We have a book on roadfood – good places for travelers to eat – so we stop and do a little research. There’s a place called Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, MS, not too far up the river from Vicksburg. We can make it there by late afternoon. Heidi says, Oh, I’ve heard of that restaurant; it was just selected a prize winner by James Beard, (the late) big-time chef. (We confirm this when we get to Nashville and internet access.)

Here’s the Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics citation:

Doe's Eat Place (502 Nelson, Greenville, MS); Owner Doe Signa, Jr. Located in Greenville on Nelson Street, this family-owned and operated restaurant is an icon of the culinary and cultural landscape of the Mississippi Delta. Doe’s Eat Place grew out of a 1940s grocery store that sold homemade hot tamales, eventually transforming itself into a casual steak joint that served both the African American and white communities in segregated Mississippi. Pivotal in the Civil Rights era, Doe’s Eat Place has become a symbol of the region’s multiracial culture.

Our roadfood book notes the restaurant’s unassuming appearance and outstanding steaks. It says, "This unique combination of top-drawer steak and downscale atmosphere is priceless Americana." Here's an exterior view -- sneak preview.

To get there, happily, Magellan soon takes us off I-20, angling across NE LA and SE AR. We traverse lush Mississippi bottomland and then cross the Mississippi on an old, narrow bridge, adjacent to a new bridge being built. (Note to self: I should try to make a list of all the Mississippi bridges I've crossed.)

Magellan winds us wierdly through Greenville and we arrive at Doe’s about 4:30. We’d skipped lunch and just snacked, planning on a late afternoon early supper before driving on a ways. Well, they don’t open until 5:30. There is an RV park at Warfield Point State Park -- a few miles away on the banks of the Mississippi -- so we decide to head there to set up, then go back to the Eat Place. The campground is largely deserted. We’ve been assigned one spot, but Susie says that if we park on the other side of the road we will be facing the river – will have a nice view through the front window. A drawback I find, though, is that they just have 30 amps electrical on that side of the road vs. 50 amps where we were assigned. It’s fairly cool, though, which means we shouldn’t need a lot of electricity, so we decide to go for the view. We set up and go back to Doe’s. I’m a little concerned, though, because the appliances aren’t coming on the way they should – e.g., the refrigerator is supposed to automatically switch from gas to electricity when you’re connected to external electricity, but it doesn’t. But the view is great.

When we get back from Doe’s, to continue the campground story before getting to the eating story, after some experimentation it becomes clear that we’re getting no electricity externally. That row of sites must have the power turned off. And, it’s gotten hot and sticky. We run the generator a while and run the fans off of that, but that’s not an all night solution. Susie says, Let’s move to the other side of the road. This means backing into the space in the dark and I’m not too keen on the idea, but she convinces me. Heidi stands at the back of the parking slot holding two flashlights in outstretched arms, like the landing officer on an aircraft carrier. I can see her in the rear TV monitor once I get lined up. Susie coaches me – STOP! STOP! TURN! TURN! -- and with a little back and forth I do get backed in OK. We connect the electricity, hold our breath, and find that yes, Houston, we do have power.

Back to Doe’s Eat Place: When we get there around six a crowd has assembled and it’s quite a scene. There's even a policeman directing traffic. Doe’s is in a former grocery store in a rundown part of town. It’s been there since 1941. You enter through the kitchen and can see and feel the heat from the large stove where the steaks are cooking. Next room, below, is part kitchen, too, where the salads, soups, and fried food are prepared. There are some tables in that room, too, and other dining rooms off of this room. Décor is standard downhome stuff – pictures and posters and newspaper clippings. Old diner-type tables and chairs. But I notice a signed picture of Peyton and Eli Manning, which you don’t see everywhere.

There's no printed menu. Waitress describes our choices. Susie and Heidi order steaks, the headline fare. I go against the grain and order shrimp and gumbo. We order tamales as an appetizer – another item they’re known for. They’re not NM-style tamales – thinner, like a cigar, and in a paper wrapping, not a corn husk, and gray, not red, maybe not pork – but they’re tasty. From where we’re sitting Heidi can see French fries being cooked the old-fashioned way in a huge black skillet, not a basket. They’re very good. The steaks and gumbo are outstanding; my shrimp is a little more ordinary (my bad), but we enjoy the whole experience quite a lot. We think it's history and atmosphere that are the highlights here, as highlighted in the Bear citation. Fine steaks, too, but not that unusual, at least at $31 per. Anyhow, if you’re ever within a half-day’s drive of Greenville, MS, go to Doe’s Eat Place.
Next morning I check out the river traffic. This string of barges seems awfully close to shore.
As I watch, the riverboat connected to all of this executes a 180 deg. pivot, then pushes the barges upstream into a channel where Heidi has seen empty barges being collected.
We get an early start -- 400 miles to go-- avoid Memphis and angle NE to connect with I-40 at Jackson, TN, then hit Nashville at rush hour (great timing). One nice town along the way, with county courthouse square, stately homes, where we try to find a place for lunch is Holly Springs, MS. Didn't see anything with parking space. Should have looked at the Roadfood book again -- Phillips Grocery there has famous hamburgers. So, if you're ever ... . We ended up eating Hardee's takeout in TuziTwo at a Love's on I-40. Bummer.
At any rate, we slowly get through bumpertobumper Nashville traffic intact -- three interstates intersect there and there's one jammed up merging-lanes intersection after another -- and get to Mandi and Paul's place on the NE side of town. We'll be here a few days, washing clothes, hanging out, sleeping indoors.
Rob and Susie