A 5 Day Midwest Adventure – Day 2: Walcott, IA to Nebraska City, NE

Welcome to Nebraska
Welcome to Nebraska

Day 2 of my trip with Marissa would take us through Iowa and into Nebraska.  I promised to be a fun day of driving the backroads of the Midwest (kind of….)


View Larger Map – Walcott, IA to Nebraska City, NE

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.

Truck with Wind Turbine Blade in Walcott, IA at Iowa 80 Truck Stop
Truck with Wind Turbine Blade in Walcott, IA at Iowa 80 Truck Stop
Iowa 80 Truckstop - World's Largest Truckstop
Iowa 80 Truckstop – World’s Largest Truckstop
Iowa 80 Truckstop is so big it has its own water tower
Iowa 80 Truckstop is so big it has its own water tower

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.

Castle Hall in Walcott, IA
Castle Hall in Walcott, IA
One of the Towers on Castle Hall in Walcott
The Main Tower on Castle Hall in Walcott

This goes to show that you never know what you might see in small town America!!

Scrap Metal Flower
Scrap Metal Flower

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.”

Walcott Corn Fields with water tower in the background
Walcott Corn Fields with water tower in the background

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.

Thomas Jefferson Statue at Coral Ridge Mall
Thomas Jefferson Statue at Coral Ridge Mall
Hanging with TJ
Hanging with TJ

While I was waiting I also caught a couple of bugs on flowers….

Lady Big on a flower at Coral Ridge Mall
Lady Big on a flower at Coral Ridge Mall
A bee flying into a flower at Coral Ridge Mall
A bee flying into a flower at Coral Ridge Mall

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.

Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk
Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk

The town even has its own Starship…the Starship “Riverside”

Starship Riverside in Riverside, Iowa
Starship Riverside in Riverside, Iowa

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.

Star Trek Visitor Center - Riverside, IA
Star Trek Visitor Center – Riverside, IA
William Shatner presented a bench in memory of Nita Wingler Rath, a well known resident of Riverside
William Shatner presented a bench in memory of Nita Wingler Rath, a well known resident of Riverside

The town holds an annual TrekFest in June that draws thousands of Trekkies.

Trekfest Promo on Starship
Trekfest Promo on Starship

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.

Visiting the Starship Enterprise in Vulcan, Alberta in 2007.
Visiting the Starship Enterprise in Vulcan, Alberta in 2007

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.

Pastoral scene north of Swedesburg, IA on US 218
Pastoral scene north of Swedesburg, IA on US 218
The famous Straw Goat from Swedesburg.
The famous Straw Goat from Swedesburg

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.

Welcome to Swedesburg
Welcome to Swedesburg
Caution - Swedish Crossing in Swedesburg, IA
Caution – Swedish Crossing in Swedesburg, IA
"World Famous" Swedish Heritage Museum in Swedesburg, IA
“World Famous” Swedish Heritage Museum in Swedesburg, IA

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.

Statue of Liberty in Mt. Pleasant, IA
Statue of Liberty in Mt. Pleasant, IA

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?

American Gothic House Sign
American Gothic House Sign
Eldon, Iowa - Home of the Grant Wood Gothic House
Eldon, Iowa – Home of the Grant Wood Gothic House

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.

Sumoflam at American Gothic House Center in Eldon, IA
Sumoflam at American Gothic House Center in Eldon, IA

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 American Gothic House
The American Gothic House
Another view of the gothic house
Another view of the gothic house
American Gothic Road
American Gothic Road

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.

Nan and McKeeby - the models
Nan and McKeeby – the models

So, what about the parodies? There are a number on display in the museum, some of which I am showing below.  There is actually a page dedicated to a number of them here.  There is also a blog dedicated to the parodies – American Gothic Parodies.

"Klingon Gothic" by Jason Tracy
“Klingon Gothic” by Kansas photographer Jason Tracy

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).

Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy
Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy
1960s TV show Green Acres
1960s TV show Green Acres
Little Chicken Carvings
Little Chicken Carvings

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.

Jos and Landen Gothic
Jos and Landen Gothic
Lyla and Grampz Gothic
Lyla and Grampz Gothic
Sumoflam Gothic
Sumoflamerican Gothic

Besides the Gothic House, Eldon does have a couple of murals, an old (and famous) opera house and a few other goodies….

Flower Wall Mural - Eldon, IA
Flower Wall Mural – Eldon, IA
Old Pepsi Wall Advertisement - Eldon, IA
Old Pepsi Wall Advertisement – Eldon, IA
McCaffey Opera House - Eldon, IA
McHaffey Opera House – Eldon, IA
Old Signs - Eldon, IA
Old Signs – Eldon, IA
Indy's Cafe - Eldon, IA
Indy’s Cafe – Eldon, IA
Main Street - Eldon, IA
Main Street – Eldon, IA
Don't forget your Retiremints
Don’t forget your Retiremints

As we left this fun little town, lo and behold, I ran into another rooster with a top hat.  Two in two days!!

Red Rooster (looks white to me) - Red Rooster Collectibles Eldon, IA
Red Rooster (looks white to me) – Red Rooster Collectibles Eldon, IA

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”.

Vermeer Dutch Windmill in Pella, IA - the largest working windmill in the United States
Vermeer Dutch Windmill in Pella, IA – the largest working windmill in the United States
Grandson Landen in Pella
Grandson Landen in Pella (photo by Marissa Noe)
Beautiful Architecture on the Pella Opera House
Beautiful Architecture on the facade of the Pella Opera House

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" or Glockenspiel
The Pella “Klokkenspel” or Glockenspiel

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.

Vander Ploeg Bakery in Pella, IA
Vander Ploeg Bakery in Pella, IA (photo by Marissa Noe)

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!!

Dutch Letters pastries at Vander Ploeg bakery in Pella
Dutch Letters pastries at Vander Ploeg bakery in Pella, Iowa
Other tasty Dutch treats in the Vander Ploeg bakery in Pella
Other tasty Dutch treats in the Vander Ploeg bakery in Pella

A few more scenes from Pella:

Protruding windows on a building in Pella
Protruding windows on a building in Pella
Unique corner turret on building in Pella
Unique corner turret on building in Pella
Windmill in Pella Town Square
Windmill in Pella Town Square

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.

Iowa State Capital - Des Moines
Iowa State Capital – Des Moines

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:

I-80 Rest Area - West bound near Casey, IA with a giant Wind Turbine blade
I-80 Rest Area – West bound near Casey, IA with a giant 161 foot tall Wind Turbine blade

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 of the Rolling Hills Wind Farm near Adair, IA
Wind Turbines of the Rolling Hills Wind Farm near Adair, IA
Wind Turbines seem to blossom like flowers out of the corn fields of Iowa
Wind Turbines seem to blossom like flowers out of the corn fields of Iowa

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.

Giant Wind Turbine straight ahead
Giant Wind Turbine straight ahead

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!”.

Smiley Water Tower in Adair, Iowa
Smiley Water Tower in Adair, Iowa
At the gas station in Adair there was a flag made from plastic cups inserted into a nearby fence.
At the gas station in Adair there was a flag made from plastic cups inserted into a nearby fence.

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.

Interstate 80 runs through the beautiful rolling hills of northwestern Iowa.
Interstate 80 runs through the beautiful rolling hills of northwestern Iowa.

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!

Yellow soybean leaves add a splash of color to the greenery
Yellow soybean leaves add a splash of color to the greenery
Rolling Hills of I-80 north of Council Bluffs, IA
Rolling Hills of I-80 north of Council Bluffs, IA
Beautiful farmland of Iowa
Beautiful farmland of Iowa
A pastoral setting just east of Council Bluffs as seen from I-80
A pastoral setting just east of Council Bluffs as seen from I-80

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.

Welcome to Nebraska
Welcome to Nebraska
Beautiful clouds in the sky south of Omaha
Beautiful clouds in the sky south of Omaha
Sunbeams peak through the clouds outside of Nebraska City, Nebraska
Sunbeams peak through the clouds outside of Nebraska City, Nebraska

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!

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A 5 Day Midwest Adventure – Day 1: Lexington, KY to Walcott, IA

Danville, Illinois
Danville, Illinois

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.


View Larger Map – Lexington, KY to Walcott, IA

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:

Indianapolis Colts Wall Mural
Indianapolis Colts Wall Mural
Indianapolis Colts Mural
Indianapolis Colts Mural
Indianapolis Colts Wall Mural
Indianapolis Colts Wall Mural

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!!

Giant Dinosaur at Indianapolis Children's Museum
Giant Dinosaur at Indianapolis Children’s Museum
Dinosaurs peek into the Children's Museum
Dinosaurs peek into the Children’s Museum
Dinosaurs "breaking out" of building
Dinosaurs “breaking out” of building
About to be squished by a giant dino!!!
About to be squished by a giant dino!!!

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.

Transformer "Bumblebee" movie prop at Children's Museum
Transformer “Bumblebee” movie prop at Children’s Museum
Grandson Landen is loving his visit with Bumblebee
Grandson Landen is loving his visit with Bumblebee
Sumoflam and Bumblebee
Sumoflam and Bumblebee

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…

Kids Playing at Indianapolis Children's Museum
Kids Playing at Indianapolis Children’s Museum
My grandkids emulate the statue at Indy Children's Museum
My grandkids emulate the statue at Indy Children’s Museum
The Great Wall in the Walk of History
The Great Wall in the Walk of History
The Sphinx and grandkids
The Sphinx and grandkids
Wall Art on a hardware store in Indy
Wall Art on a hardware store in Indy
Colorful Building Graffiti in Indianapolis
Colorful Building Graffiti in Indianapolis

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.

Traveling I-74 west towards Danville, IL from Indy
Traveling I-74 west towards Danville, IL from Indy

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.

Old Drive-In Burger place in Danville...60's neon.
Old Drive-In Burger place in Danville…60’s neon
Royal Donut in Danville, IL.  Great prices and old fashioned goodness
Royal Donut in Danville, IL. Great prices and old fashioned goodness

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.

Tiger Head Malt Syrup
Tiger Head Malt Syrup mural by The Walldogs
Hot Rod Lincoln mural by The Walldogs
Hot Rod Lincoln mural by The Walldogs
Historical mural in Danville, IL
Historical mural in Danville, IL
Colorful mural depicting Balloon Classic
Colorful full wall mural depicting Balloon Classic
Evel Knievel Wall Mural in Danville
Evel Knievel Wall Mural in Danville
Chuckles Ad with Evel Knievel flying over it....
Chuckles Ad with Evel Knievel flying over it….

And perhaps the best one of all of them….

Celebrities of Danville Wall Mural in downtown Danville, IL
Celebrities of Danville Wall Mural in downtown Danville, IL
Sumoflam and Dick Van Dyke
Sumoflam and Dick Van Dyke

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.

Carl Lindley and his wife at the original Sign Post Forest in Alaska (photo from www.signpostforest.com)
Lindley Sign Post Forest Sign
Lindley Sign Post Forest Sign
Lindley Sign Post Forest
Lindley Sign Post Forest

And following are a few more sign posts….

Lindley Sign Post Forest
Lindley Sign Post Forest
Lindley Sign Post Forest
Lindley Sign Post Forest
Another Long View of the Lindley Sign Post Forest
Another Long View of the Lindley Sign Post Forest

And a few more scenes from Danville….

The Old Fisher Theater in downtown Danville
The Old Fischer Theater in downtown Danville
Danville USA Brick Sculpture by Donna Dobberfuhl
Danville USA Brick Sculpture by Donna Dobberfuhl

More on Danville USA Sculpture here

Colorful Birdhouses in a park next door to the Fischer Theater
Colorful Birdhouses in a park next door to the Fischer Theater
Interesting Jazz-themed mosaic sculpture in the small park next to the Fischer Theater
Interesting Jazz-themed mosaic sculpture in the small park next to the Fischer Theater
AMBUCS Playground for Everyone
AMBUCS Playground for Everyone

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.

Fresh Pumpkins at Curtis Orchard
Fresh Pumpkins at Curtis Orchard

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.

Granddaughter Lyla follows the Yellow Brick Road at Curtis Orchards
Granddaughter Lyla follows the Yellow Brick Road at Curtis Orchards
Giant Indian at Curtis Orchards
Giant Indian at Curtis Orchards
Emerald City Mural on barn at Curtis Orchards
Emerald City Mural on barn at Curtis Orchards

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.

Wind Farm near Bloomington, IL
Wind Farm near Bloomington, IL
I-74 west of Normal, Illinois
I-74 west of Normal, Illinois
Welcome to Morton, Illinois - Pumpkin Capital of the World
Welcome to Morton, Illinois – Pumpkin Capital of the World
We missed the Morton Pumpkin Festival by only a few days.
We missed the Morton Pumpkin Festival by only a few days

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.

Sumoflam and Twistee Treat in Peoria, IL
Sumoflam and Twistee Treat in Peoria, IL
M & M's Twistee Treat - E. Peoria, IL
M & M’s Twistee Treat – E. Peoria, IL

Though built in the 1980s, there are flashbacks to the 1960s in here and also a collection of M & M stuff….

Starlight Drive-in Clock in Twistee Treat
Starlight Drive-in Clock in Twistee Treat
Old style counter and lots of M & M stuff
Old style counter and lots of M & M stuff
Big Ice Cream Cones at Twistee Treat
Big Ice Cream Cones at Twistee Treat

Just down the street from the Twistee Treat is Carl’s Bakery, home of the giant Rooster with a Top Hat.

Sumoflam with the giant Rooster with a Top Hat at Carl's Bakery in E. Peoria
Sumoflam with the giant Rooster with a Top Hat at Carl’s Bakery in E. Peoria

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.

Peoria, Illinois skyline
Peoria, Illinois skyline
Murray Baker Bridge crossing over the Illinois River
Murray Baker Bridge crossing over the Illinois River
Rural Scene in eastern Iowa as seen from I-74
Rural Scene in eastern Iowa as seen from I-74

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….

Antique Archaeology closed for filming
Antique Archaeology closed for filming

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).

American Pickers production staff takes a break
American Pickers production staff takes a break
Antique Archaeology Car as seen on American Pickers
Antique Archaeology Car as seen on American Pickers
Antique Archaeology picks
Antique Archaeology picks
Sumoflam and Rob Wolfe at Antique Archaeology
Sumoflam and Rob Wolfe at Antique Archaeology
Sumoflam with Danielle from American Pickers (taken June 2012)
Sumoflam with Danielle Colby from American Pickers (taken June 2012)

And the best picture of all….

My Grandkidz at with the old Antique Archaeology Nash
My Grandkidz at with the old Antique Archaeology Nash as seen on American Pickers

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!

Buffalo Bill Museum - LeClaire, Iowa
Buffalo Bill Museum – LeClaire, Iowa
Buffalo Bull Museum in LeClaire, Iowa
Buffalo Bull Museum in LeClaire, Iowa

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.

Sunset in Walcott, IA at the World's Largest Truck Stop
Sunset in Walcott, IA at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop – World’s Largest Truck Stop

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Car Art: Cars in art around the US




DSC_9365One of the more unique American traditions along the Less Beaten Paths is the recycling of auto parts for art. Indeed, a couple of the most famous roadside attractions in the US are made from cars. This post will look at a few pieces of “car art” that I have seen over the years and, then, at the end, I will note a few others that are out there and worth a visit from all of us — some that I hope to get to over the next couple of years.

"Spindle" by Dustin Shuler was in Cermak Plaza in Berwyn, Illinois until it was removed in May 2008
“Spindle” by Dustin Shuler was in Cermak Plaza in Berwyn, Illinois until it was removed in May 2008

Probably one of the two most famous Car Art pieces that I am aware of, this car shish-kabob called “Spindle” and created by artist Dustin Shuler (1948-2010), became ultra famous after being featured in Wayne’s World. It has also been featured in on the cover of a book (called Oddball Illinois: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places), on postcards, state tourist brochures, and maps. It was originally commissioned by the shopping center owner, David Bermant, who donated his BMW car to be placed second from the top of the sculpture.Shuler himself owned the red 1967 VW Beetle that crowned the sculpture.The foundation of the sculpture reached nearly 30 feet into the ground; the cost of erecting it was over $75,000.

Sumoflam and Spindle in September 2007
Sumoflam and Spindle in September 2007

The cars on a spike never did res well with some of the citizens of Berwyn, Illinois, and thus in 1990 they voted overwhelmingly for it to be removed. Nevertheless, the Mayor argued that it drew tourism to town and had become an icon. The owner of Cermak’s Shopping Center argued the same. But, alas, in July 2007, it was announced that the shopping center was to be redeveloped and that the site of the sculpture was earmarked for a new Walgreens store. New controversy ensued and finally, in May of 2008 the structure was taken down.

The impaled cars on the spindle, from top to bottom, were:

  1. 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, red
  2. 1976 BMW New Class, silver License Plate reads “DAVE”
  3. 1981 Ford Escort, blue
  4. 1974 or 1973 Mercury Capri, green
  5. 1978 Ford Mustang, white over blue
  6. 1981 Pontiac Grand Prix, maroon or burgundy
  7. 1980 or 1979 Ford LTD, light yellow
  8. 1981 or 1979 Mercury Grand Marquis, black
Spindle as seen from the shopping center.
Spindle as seen from the shopping center.

When I was at Cermak’s in 2007 I actually made a video of Spindle along with some of the other art at Cermak’s. Here it is….

Perhaps just as famous is the “Cadillac Ranch” near Amarillo, Texas. Like the “Spindle“, this site has had controversy and has been featured in movies, advertisements, comics, etc. It is most certainly one of the most well known Roadside Attractions in the U.S.

Cadillac Ranch as seen from Interstate 40 west of Amarillo, Texas
Cadillac Ranch as seen from Interstate 40 west of Amarillo, Texas

It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, and it consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, supposedly at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas
Sumoflam at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas
Sumoflam at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas

The cars have gone through numerous iterations…completely black, completely white, stc., when used for ads and commercials. But, soon thereafter, the tourists with the spray paint cans make their way to make their marks on the cars. So, this ends up being a “stationary attraction” always in a state of change.

Bottom of Cadillac at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo
Underside of Cadillac at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo

Due to the popularity of Cadillac Ranch, there have been a few imitators, none of which I have been to yet, but hope to get to sometime in the near future. These include:

VW Slug Bug Ranch – Conway, Texas

Slug Bug Ranch - this photo comes from wondersofbackroads.wordpress.com
Slug Bug Ranch – this photo comes from wondersofbackroads.wordpress.com

The Slug Bug Ranch consists of five VW Beetles buried nose first in the ground. There is also an older 1930s car on the site. As with Cadillac Ranch, people have left their mark in spray paint.

 

 

 

Combine City – Canyon, Texas

Combine Ranch
Combine Ranch – photo borrowed from Lovin Our Life Blog

This place even has their own website (see combinecity.com). According to their site, “Combine City began with one Combine Harvester planted in the ground. Over time, that solitary Combine has welcomed 13 more. In total, 14 Combines are planted, standing as a tribute to the great nature of the West Texas farmer.” Unlike Cadillac Ranch and Slug Bug Ranch, Combine City does not allow folks to come in and spray paint.

 

Airstream Ranch – Dover, Florida

Airstream Ranch - located at Bates RV in Dover, Florida
Airstream Ranch – located at Bates RV in Dover, Florida

Indeed, this is not cars…it is Airstreams, but these are a great addition to this collection. These are located at Bates RV in Dover, Florida and have been the subject for many photos in the past. My good friend, the musician Antsy McClain has actually done a photo shoot here for some Trailer Park Troubadours stuff (see below).

 

Antsy McClain - Airstream Ranch
Antsy McClain – Airstream Ranch

Like Cadillac Ranch and Slug Bug Ranch, the Airstream Ranch has not been without controversy. Neighbors have argued that it was unsightly, but, ultimately, the Tourist Attraction and Art Factors won out.

Like the other sites, this attracts tourists from all over and has been used in advertisements, etc.

The historic value of Airstreams in travel always leads to an interest in these aluminum domiciles on wheels. There are rallies all over the country and one can always see them on the road. Indeed, many are happy to be “Living in Aluminum” and following the Aluminum Rule – “Thou Shalt Enjoy the Ride”

 

Henry’s Rabbit Ranch – Staunton, Illinois

Henry's Rabbit Ranch - Staunton, Illinois
Henry’s Rabbit Ranch – Staunton, Illinois

Henry’s Rabbit Ranch is one of those iconic Route 66 stops on the back roads of America. Located just west of Interstate 55 in southern Illinois (and a short drive north of St. Louis), it lies along the old Route 66. Along with tons of Route 66 memorabilia, they have a set of buried cars.

 

Carhenge – Alliance, Nebraska

Carhenge - May 2014
Carhenge – May 2014

As with the others above, there are buried cars, but, in this case the creators of Carhenge tried to emulate the famed Stonehenge of England. They too have their own website, including a history of the Jim Reinders creation. This 1987 piece of Car Art has 38 automobiles and there are other pieces of Car Art on “Car Art Reserve”. Like the locations above, Carhenge has been the subject of numerous commercials and film productions.

All of the locations above are big tourist attractions for the back roads adventurer seeking the offbeat and quirky. But, there are many other smaller pieces of car art and/or “car displays” around the country, many of which I have had the opportunity to see. Here are a few.

Flattened Car - Cermaks Plaza, Berwyn, Illinois
Pinto Pelt – Cermaks Plaza, Berwyn, Illinois

The flattened car (called “Pinto Pelt“) is another creation by Spindle artist Dustin Shuler and is also located in Cermak’s Plaza. This too went the way of the world apparently in the reconstruction project in Berwyn’s once famous shopping center.

Art Car Museum - Houston, Texas
Art Car Museum – Houston, Texas

The Art Car Museum in Houston, Texas is dedicated to true Art Cars, those cars that have had art added to them. According to the “Art Car Manifesto“, “an art car is a motor-driven vehicle which a car artist alters in such a way as to suit his own aesthetic. In other words, the artist either adds or subtracts materials of his own choosing to or from the factory model or he may renovate an earlier model to revive a beauty and style that once was. The result is a vehicle which conveys new meaning through design, mechanical or structural changes, renovation, and/or the addition of new images, symbols or collage elements.”

Art Car Museum
Art Car Museum – Houston, Texas

The Art Car Museum website has a great Photo Gallery of some of the more unique cars featured at the museum. When I visited in 2010 the museum was not open so I didn’t get a chance to get any good car shots. But, along the way I have found a couple on my own…

Art Car at Third Street Stuff - Lexington, Kentucky
Art Car at Third Street Stuff – Lexington, Kentucky
Close up of Art Car at Third Street Stuff
Close up of Art Car at Third Street Stuff
Art Car at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, Washington
Art Car at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, Washington
Close up of spider on Art Car at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, Washington
Close up of spider on Art Car at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, Washington

Some of the more unique pieces utilizing cars as art that I have come across in my travels:

The Smoke Sax - Houston, Texas
The Smoke Sax – Houston, Texas

The Smoke Sax” was built in 1993 by artist Bob Wade of Austin, TX. It is 70 feet tall and is made of an oil field pipe, an upside down Volkswagen Beetle, beer kegs, canoe, hub caps, a surf board and chrome. Until March 2013 this was located at the Horn Bar and Grille on Richmond Avenue in Houston, TX. However, in March 2013 it was disassembled and will be eventually added to the unique folk art center called the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. They also are the sponsor of the Houston Art Car Parade.

VW Base of the Smoke Sax
VW Base of the Smoke Sax
VW Hood Sax Valves on Smoke Sax
VW Hood Sax Valves on Smoke Sax

Clear across the country in Wolf Creek, Oregon an artist has created two Spider Bugs out of old Volkswagens. Roadside America covered these and, it turns out that these are not the only ones around. There are actually dozens of them. The website Weburbanist has a fine page dedicated to a number of these from around the U.S. including Oklahoma, Idaho, California, Ontario, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and even in the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Spider Volkswagen - Wolf Creek, Oregon
Spider Volkswagen – Wolf Creek, Oregon
Spider Car - Wolf Creek, Oregon
Spider Karmann Ghia – Wolf Creek, Oregon

Heading back eastward one can venture into Kadoka, South Dakota, near the Badlands National Park and see a unique piece of art made from car parts, including a smashed car as a base…

"Scrappy" the Scrap Metal Buck by Brett Prang - Kadoka, South Dakota
“Scrappy” the Scrap Metal Buck by Brett Prang – Kadoka, South Dakota

Then there is the old truck with a Giant Potato on it at The Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho

The Spud Drive-In - Teton Valley, Idaho
The Spud Drive-In – Driggs, Idaho

More emulation of Cadillac Ranch can be found at the now closed down Rio Brazos Music Hall in Granbury, Texas

Rio Brazos Dance Hall - Granbury, Texas (now closed)
Rio Brazos Music Hall – Granbury, Texas (now closed)
Old Trucks - Rio Brazos Music Hall - Granbury, Texas
Old Trucks – Rio Brazos Music Hall – Granbury, Texas

Commerce, Oklahoma, one of those Route 66 touristy towns has used parts of cars for advertising

Car Advertising in Commerce, Oklahoma
Car Advertising in Commerce, Oklahoma

Then there are the places with Cars on roofs and signs and walls to draw people in:

Big Daddy's Restaurant - Lake Norman, North Carolina
Big Daddy’s Restaurant – Lake Norman, North Carolina

Big Daddy’s is located in the heart of NASCAR Country in North Carolina. And to prove it they have a number of cars on their roof and on their lot.

Big Daddy's - Lake Norman, North Carolina
Big Daddy’s – Lake Norman, North Carolina

The Route 26 Mart in Scottsbluff, Nebraska touts itself as an Americana Convenience Mart and has on old finned Chevy on its roof to pull you in….

Route 26 Mart - Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Route 26 Mart – Scottsbluff, Nebraska

The Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, South Dakota tries to draw you in with advertising some of the unique cars…

Pioneer Auto Show - Murdo, South Dakota
Pioneer Auto Show – Murdo, South Dakota

Angel’s Diner in McAlester, Oklahoma uses old cars to advertise their 60’s themed restaurant and Happy Days Motel.

Angel's Diner - McAlester, Oklahoma
Angel’s Diner – McAlester, Oklahoma

Of course, what would a Car Art post be without limos with Longhorns on their hoods??

Longhorn Limo - at Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo, Texas
Longhorn Limo – at Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo, Texas

The Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo, home of the 72 Oz steak, offers rides in their Longhorn Limos.

Longhorn Limos at Big Texan Steak House, Amarillo, Texas
Longhorn Limos at Big Texan Steak House, Amarillo, Texas

I have run across a couple of places where cars have been integrated into the buildings. Here is one example from western Oregon:

Blue Banana Espesso Bar in Lostine, Oregon
Blue Banana Espesso Bar in Lostine, Oregon

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the iconic and well known Nash AirFlyte that sits outside of Antique Archaeology in Le Claire, Iowa, better known as the home of the History Channel’s American Pickers.

Nash AirFlyte at Antique Archaeology
Nash AirFlyte at Antique Archaeology
Sumoflam with old Nash at Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, Iowa
Sumoflam with old Nash at Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, Iowa

The only Corvette Factory in the world is in my home state of Kentucky, in Bowling Green. They are also the home of the Corvette Museum and they have a nice one on a pedestal…

Old Corvette on pedestal at Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky
Old Corvette on pedestal at Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Finally, there are all of those old trucks and cars that scatter the landscape in yards and fields around the U.S. These can be seen on back roads and some are obviously used as yard decor…

Old Pickup in Cumberland Gap, Kentucky
Old Pickup in Cumberland Gap, Kentucky
Old truck in Sisters, Oregon
Old truck in Sisters, Oregon
Old Car with mannikin in Fletcher, Ohio
Old Car with mannequin in Fletcher, Ohio
Old Car at old gas station in Oakdale, Ontario, Canada
Old Car at old gas station in Oakdale, Ontario, Canada
Old pickup with swans in Disputanta, Kentucky
Old pickup with swans in Disputanta, Kentucky
Old car in Chester, Montana
Old car in Chester, Montana
Old cars in trees near Albatross, Missouri
Old cars in trees near Albatross, Missouri
Old truck with old signs in Bellevue, Idaho
Old truck with old signs in Bellevue, Idaho
Old car in Blue, Oklahoma
Old car in Blue, Oklahoma
Swamp Thing Chevy pickup in Uncertain, Texas
Swamp Thing Chevy pickup in Uncertain, Texas
Old truck near Rexburg, Idaho
Old truck near Rexburg, Idaho
Old car and truck in Elk Point, South Dakota
Old car and truck in Elk Point, South Dakota

I have a dozen more of these, but I think you get the “pictures.” So, get out and Enjoy the Ride and be on the watch out for those old vehicles that helped someone else Enjoy the Ride in the past!!!

Some roadside assistance provided by friends at……

(3150)