After two days of hard driving with three children, we were ready for a brief break. Marissa’s friends live near Nebraska City, so we stayed here for a couple of nights. After a good night’s rest, I took them over to the Arbor Day Farm so that they could enjoy each others company. Nebraska City is also the home of Arbor Day, which is a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant and care for trees. It originated in Nebraska City United States by J. Sterling Morton. The first Arbor Day was held in Nebraska on April 10, 1872.
I didn’t attend the Arbor Day Farm with Marissa and her friends, but would have liked to. Here are a couple of photos from Marissa’s visit…very kid friendly indeed!! The 260 acre of Arbor Day Farmis full of natural beauty and is also a National Historic Landmark.
While they spent a couple of hours at the farm, I spent my time driving around and enjoying the nice atmosphere of Nebraska City. The farm not only has trees, but also fruit bearing trees and lots of flowers. I snapped a couple of shots before I headed into town.
For me, there were actually two interesting highlights of the visit to Nebraska City. The first was the “Enchanted Arboretum,” which began in the fall of 2012. Professional artists from around the country submitted 12-inch maquettes of suggested designs that were then juried by area arts experts for project inclusion. Of the 55 submissions, only 21 could be chosen. The artists of the winning designs received their blank sculpture along with a materials stipend in January 2013 and set to work on their creations. This kind of fund raising and art event seems to have become a popular trend in recent years. I have noted the “Horsemania” event held in my hometown of Lexington, KY in a previous post. And just a couple of weeks ago Lexington rolled out another one called “Town Branch Bourbon Barrel Project” which features painted bourbon barrels (I will have a post about that in a week or so). I have seen others, such as painted buffaloes, painted cows (see Cow Parade), Moose in the City (in Toronto), and many more. I have, on occasion, run into some and have photographed them.
We were very fortunate (the kids saw a few as well) to have seen these as they all went on the auction block on September 28, just about two weeks after our visit on September 11.
The other delightful surprise for me were the newly painted Old Fashioned product Wall Advertisements that covered the walls of many of the downtown buildings. Following are a few photos of the Enchanted Arboretum and the Wall Art of Nebraska City….
By far my favorite is the “Spirits of the Wind”, as seen above. Very detailed and intricate. Following is a detail of this nice piece of art….
I plan on doing another blog post about this kind of art work as seen from my travels. Hopefully I can include much more.
As I mentioned above, I also got a kick out of the numerous wall advertisements painted on buildings in the downtown area. These works have all been painstakingly recreated and painted by local artist Kent Schwartz thanks to a charitable donation from the Paul John Anton and Doris Wirth Foundation of Nebraska City (which was also one of the organizations providing grant assistance for the Enchanted Arboretum). Most of these are from products in the 1950s-1970s (and maybe earlier). I remember some of them from when I was younger. Here are some samples
We visited Nebraska City on September 11 and the town was decked out in flags in remembrance of all those who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks. Many small towns across America do the same thing.
Nebraska City is also home to the Kregel Windmill Company, which manufactures the famous ELI windmills used on farms across the midwest.
The Kregel Windmill Company operated as a commercial enterprise in the same building in Nebraska City, Nebraska from 1903 to 1991. Even though they have not been mass produced since the early 1940s, Kregel Windmill Company “Eli” brand windmills are still found in service pumping life-giving water for both humans and livestock. They demonstrate clearly how wind power without polluting the environment can serve the needs of humans now and in the future to improve their lives.
Little Nebraska City offered a few other things to see as I drove around the quiet, seemingly All-American town…here are a few more shots:
The Otoe County Courthouse is currently on the National Registry of Historic Places and is the oldest public building in the state of Nebraska.
Every town seems to have that one odd house with a collection of junk or perhaps their version of folk art. I found Nebraska City’s house on one of the neighborhood roads…..
Whenever I travel I am always watching for animals…I found the following “animal” – but I am not sure what to call it….
Naturally, when I am on the road I am always looking for interesting animal shots as well. Here I found a red-tail squirrel scampering for nuts….
And how about a couple more shots of Nebraska City
I really got a kick out of this sign and their website. Their Motto: Lawn Order – Do Your Lawn Justice!
And perhaps the best thing in town?? How about a park with an old Merry Go Round. I don’t see these much anymore. Too many parks are concerned about safety I suppose. My grandkids and my daughter loved it!!
With the Grandkidz with us, every morning was an early one, so we were on the road in Walcott fairly early. First thing I saw as I stepped out of the hotel was this big semi carrying a blade for a wind turbine. This would set the stage for some subsequent visits along the road this day. You never really know how big these are until you have a frame of reference, like a huge truck.
From the truckstop we meandered into the small town of Walcott to get a glimpse of something really unusual. A house built to look like a medieval castle… Castle Hall. According to stories, this was built in 1905 to look like Balmoral Castle in Scotland, but it is nothing like it in my eyes.
This goes to show that you never know what you might see in small town America!!
Of course, then there is my penchant for scrap metal art. This scrap metal flower piece was just across the street from the Castle Hall. Had to snap a shot to add to my “collection.”
From Walcott it was Westward Ho towards Iowa City, with a quick stop in Coralville. I got to visit with Thomas Jefferson there while waiting for Marissa and the kiddos at the Coral Ridge Mall.
While I was waiting I also caught a couple of bugs on flowers….
From Coralville, we headed south on US 218 towards the small town of Riverside, IA. Why Riverside? Well, the small quaint town is “officially” the Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk, Captain of the Starship Enterprise — Star Trek. Apparently, Gene Roddenberry approved the Riverside Town Council’s recommendation to make it so….in 1985. The future historical birth, which is set to take place on March 22, 2228, is also celebrated annually by the people of Riverside.
The town even has its own Starship…the Starship “Riverside”
There is also a small History Center and Souvenir shop in town as well as a bench dedicated to someone and it was donated by none other than William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk from the old Star Trek TV series in the 1960s.
The town holds an annual TrekFest in June that draws thousands of Trekkies.
This was not my first venture into Trekkiedom…. back in 2007 I visited the town of Vulcan in Alberta, Canada (see my blog post) with my good friend “Crafty Jack” Burger (see my longer post about that visit), a guitar maker from Lethbridge. I got a good shot with the scale model of the Enterprise there.
Well, enough about boldly going where no man has gone before. We ventured further south for a quick stop in the small town of Swedesburg, IA….a little taste of Sweden.
The straw goat, also known as a “Julbock”, is one of the biggest symbols of the Swedish Christmas tradition and also serves in this town as a lure to come visit the town and its famous museum.
Since the Swedish museum was closed, it was further south towards our planned for destination. But, we had to go through Mt. Pleasant and so I stopped to get a shot of their local Statue of Liberty.
From Mt. Pleasant we proceeded west on US 34 until we hit Iowa Hwy 16, which we took south to the town of Eldon. Why Eldon?
Well, this actually is a very famous place in the history of American Art as it is the location of artist Grant Wood’s 1930″American Gothic” painting — you know, the one with the two folks, the guy with the pitchfork in front of the house. Not only is the painting famous, but it is probably one of the most parodied pieces of art anywhere (in my opinion). Only a few other images, such as the Mona Lisa or Scream, by Edward Munch, are as widely known as American Gothic, and because of its high visibility, the painting is an easy choice as a parody.
The visit starts at the American Gothic House Center, just a few yards from the actual house in the painting. This is not only a museum dedicated to the painting, but it also houses a number of parodies, provides visitors with prop clothing to wear and do their own photo in front of the house, etc.
The original portion of the house that contains the two Gothic windows was built in 1881-82 by Catherine and Charles Dibble. As the original owners of the home, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Dibble House. Grant Wood used his sister Nan and his dentist Dr. B.H. McKeeby as the models (see more here). Ironically, the models for the artwork never posed together when they were drawn prior to, or during the painting of American Gothic. This was conceptualized by the Grant Wood.
Shawnee, Kansas photographer Jason Tracy (see his site) has kindly given me permission to use his high res photo of a Klingon man and woman at the Gothic House. Jason has a number of unique and offbeat Conceptual Portrait works (see them here).
Of course, we can also do our own!! And that is the real fun of this place. Here we got my granddaughter and grandson to pose (not too willingly mind you…) And then I got a couple of them in myself.
Besides the Gothic House, Eldon does have a couple of murals, an old (and famous) opera house and a few other goodies….
As we left this fun little town, lo and behold, I ran into another rooster with a top hat. Two in two days!!
After such a fun time in Eldon, it was hard to move on, but we did. We returned north on Iowa Hwy 16 to US 34 and then continued west until Ottumwa and then north on US 63 towards Des Moines. At the junction with Iowa163 we veered west in order to take the children to Pella to see the giant Vermeer Dutch Windmill and even get them a treat at one of the fabulous Dutch bakeries there. This was my second time there and I am always impressed with the architecture, especially that of the Pella Opera House and the Pella “Klokkenspel”.
The Historic Pella Opera House was opened in 1900 and has gone through a number of renovations and uses. Today it is a colorful reminder of both Dutch heritage and early 1900s architecture.
The Pella “Klokkenspel” has eight four-foot mechanical figures that perform at regular intervals to the music of a 147-bell computer driven carillon. This is one of only a handful of animated musical clocks in the United States. Unfortunately, we were not there during a performance time of these characters, which are held daily at 11:00 am, 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, and 9:00 pm. The building also adds a unique flair to the beauty of downtown Pella.
The bakeries in Pella are absolute delights. On my last trip to Pella (see post here) my wife and I visited the Jaarsma Bakery, but on this visit Marissa and kids dropped into the Vander Ploeg Bakery, which is only about 5 doors down from the Jaarsma. Both of them offer “Dutch letters,” those crispy, flaky, buttery pastries filled with almond paste, shaped into an “s,” and covered with large, crunchy sugar crystals. The kids loved them!!
A few more scenes from Pella:
From Pella we continued on Iowa 163 all the way into Des Moines and then on to Interstate 235. Along the way we passed the impressive Iowa Capital building with its gold plated dome and four other domes. One of the most impressive capital buildings I have seen in my travels.
After passing through Des Moines, we made our way into Iowa Wind Turbine country around Casey and Adair. The Rest Area on I-80 near Casey (on the Westbound side) has a giant wind turbine blade installed. The kids were all asleep, so we didn’t stop. But we did get a photo of it:
Continuing westward toward Adair we could begin seeing the huge MidAmerican owned Rolling Hills wind farm, which currently consists of nearly 200 Siemens 2.3 MW turbines, making it the largest wind farm in Iowa. According to a number of reports, the state generates nearly a quarter of its energy from wind, first in the nation, and the number will soon grow as more than 600 more wind turbines are slated for installation through 2015.
Wind Turbines are massive monsters. Unlike the old Dutch windmills (as seen in Pella), these units are about 262 feet tall from base to rotor shaft (twice as high as Niagara Falls!!). The blades are each 161 feet in length and the rotor diameter is 331 feet.
The wind farms are a boost to the economy of the counties involved as farmers and other land owners get thousands of dollars for the utilities to use their lands. Some consider them unsightly. I love the graceful feel of these “modern flowers” blossoming out of the fields. With these added funds, it is no wonder that Adair, Iowa has a famous Smiley Water Tower!! The town of Adair is humorously known as “the happiest town on Earth” and its town welcome sign greets visitors with “Welcome to Adair It’ll make you Smile!”.
Adair also has a not so friendly history as it was the site of the first train robbery in the West and was also the world’s fist robbery of a moving train. The notorious Jesse James and his gang robbed a train supposedly carrying $75,000 in gold on the evening of July 21, 1873. Unfortunately for them, the shipment was delayed and they only were able to get away with about $3000 worth of gold. There is an historical park in the town that we didn’t have time to visit. There is more about it here.
The drive down Interstate 80 from Adair to Council Bluffs is really beautiful in mid-September as the corn has turned brown, wildflowers are in bloom everywhere and the soybean leaves are turning yellow. Here are a few scenes from the road…mind you, it was late afternoon so the shadows made things even more thrilling!
Soon after hitting Council Bluffs we arrived in Nebraska and headed toward rain. We made our way to Nebraska City, the birthplace of Arbor Day.
Overall it was a great day of travel and the grandkidz had a fun time. Rest up for Nebraska City promises lots of fun on Day 3!
On September 9, 2013 I had the opportunity to accompany my daughter and three grand kids on a an adventure across the midwest from Kentucky to Omaha, Nebraska. She wanted to visit her close friend there and needed a “tour planner and driver.” I was free and able to make the journey. All totaled, we spent 5 days on the road visiting spots in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. This post covers our adventures on Day 1 as we made our way to Walcott, Iowa, home of the World’s Largest Truck Stop.
We left plenty early so that we could hit Indianapolis by early morning with the intent to surprise the three grand kids with a “Dinosaur Sighting”. As we arrived in downtown Indy near the Lucas Field, I saw my first “Football” Wall Art. There was an entire wall of a building dedicated to the Indianapolis Colts. Here are a few shots:
A few blocks later we arrived at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Unfortunately, it was the first Monday after Labor Day, so the museum was closed. But, our main concern was seeing the amazing dinosaurs busting out of the building. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled!!
After looking at the dinosaurs, we were walking past the building and peeking in. The kids got all excited as there was a GIANT Transformer in the lobby. To our total delight, one of the staff members came to the door and invited us in to see the Autobot “Bumblebee.” This huge model was actually a prop from the original 2007 Transformers movie.
The outside of the museum also has a couple of nice bronze sculptures of kids at play and a nice “Walk through History” of some of the unique buildings of the world…
This first part of our trip was a real splash for the kids and got us on the fast lane for the remainder of the day. From Indy we headed west to Danville, Illinois. Danville has put in a great deal of effort to color up the town with beautiful murals and the Lindley Signpost Forest.
Danville, Illinois is a town of a bit over 33,000 people. It is literally on the border of Inidana. The town has a colorful history and was the home to famous actors Dick Van Dyke and Gene Hackman. The Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount was also born in Danville.
Today the charming town features antique shops and other shopping, a number of historical museums and a smattering of colorful Wall Murals created by Walldogs. In August of 2010, one hundred and sixty-two Walldog artists traveled to Danville from all over the world for a four day meet (see a complete Gallery here). During that span, they forever changed and enhanced the city with sixteen murals in a 7 block area.
And perhaps the best one of all of them….
Along with the numerous murals in town, Danville also set a park aside downtown to create the Lindley Sign Post Forest. This was created in honor of Danville resident Carl Lindley. He was a soldier who became homesick while working on the Alaska Highway in 1942. While there, Lindley erected a sign at Watson Lake in the Yukon showing how far it was to his hometown of Danville — 2835 miles. Since that time more than 40,000 signs have been added to it at Watson Lake. The Danville version of the Sign Post Forest was originally built in 2010 along with the painting of the Walldog murals.
We let the kids play at the AMBUCS Playground for Everyone, which has been specifically designed to accommodate not only children, but also handicapped individuals and adults. It was actually quite unique.
From Danville, it was westward to Champaign, Illinois. Obviously, with the kids, I had hoped to get them to the Curtis Orchard Pumpkin Farm to see the Wizard of Oz themed things and for them to “follow the yellow brick road”. Unfortunately, only the youngest, little Lyla, was awake.
From Champaign we continued northwest on I-74 through the windfarms near Bloomington and onward into Morton, Illinois, the Pumpkin Capital of the World and home of the Libby’s Pumpkin Canning Plant.
From Morton it was up I-74 into East Peoria. This was a very hot day (around 100 degrees) and the kids needed some cooling off. Where better than to go to the M & M’s Twistee Treat? This is one of those iconic Ice Cream/Hot Dog places where going there is as much fun as eating the ice cream.
Though built in the 1980s, there are flashbacks to the 1960s in here and also a collection of M & M stuff….
Just down the street from the Twistee Treat is Carl’s Bakery, home of the giant Rooster with a Top Hat.
From Peoria is was north to Le Claire, Iowa. My daughter Marissa was keen on visiting Antique Archeaology, home of the American Pickers TV Show. So, we zoomed on up the freeway.
We arrived in LeClaire around 5 PM knowing that Antique Archaeology closed at 6 PM. Marissa was very excited to visit. But, lo and behold, on this, my third visit and her first, we saw the following sign when we got there….
That did not stop us from taking a few shots from the outside. We also got a chance to meet Mike Wolfe’s brother Rob, who was on hand for the filming that day. Danielle Colby was nowhere to be found, likely because she is running her clothing shop in Chicago. Last year I did get a chance to visit her as well (and I have included that photo for fun).
And the best picture of all….
Of course, LeClaire is not only known for American Pickers. It is also the birthplace of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in April 1846. The family left LeClaire in 1853 to move to Leavenworth, Kansas. Eventually, Buffalo Bill made his way west. Cody, Wyoming is named after him and has a large museum (which I visited earlier this year). We dropped by the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire for a couple of shots to round off my visit to Buffalo Bill Cody Museums in two locations!
After our brief visit to LeClaire, we were hot, tired and ready to settle down, so we headed straight to our motel in Walcott, IA, next door to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop – the World’s Largest Truck Stop.