One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building. That is part of the fun of a back road adventure. Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).
Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers. They are often interesting to stop and read. As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”
When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark. From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast. In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition. Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.
Of course, after them went the pioneers. There were those who followed the Oregon Trail. Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail. In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail. Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others. Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen. As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.
Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise. Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.
The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history. But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.
In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg. There are many others.
For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns. These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes. Typically there are monuments or statues. I have come across many of these. They are always a fun little side adventure.
I have come across many of these over the years. Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces. (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.) Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.
Then, of course, there are the historical buildings. Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties. There are old churches large and small. And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings. All of them tell some sort of story about the place.
I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country. I love the old architecture. I have some favorites. Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.
Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects. One never knows what they will run into in a small town. A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?
I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff. Here are a few below.
One 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.
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.
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:
1967 Volkswagen Beetle, red
1976 BMW New Class, silver License Plate reads “DAVE”
1981 Ford Escort, blue
1974 or 1973 Mercury Capri, green
1978 Ford Mustang, white over blue
1981 Pontiac Grand Prix, maroon or burgundy
1980 or 1979 Ford LTD, light yellow
1981 or 1979 Mercury Grand Marquis, black
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
Some of the more unique pieces utilizing cars as art that I have come across in my travels:
“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.
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.
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…
Then there is the old truck with a Giant Potato on it at The Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho
More emulation of Cadillac Ranch can be found at the now closed down Rio Brazos Music Hall in Granbury, Texas
Commerce, Oklahoma, one of those Route 66 touristy towns has used parts of cars for advertising
Then there are the places with Cars on roofs and signs and walls to draw people in:
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.
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….
The Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, South Dakota tries to draw you in with advertising some of the unique cars…
Angel’s Diner in McAlester, Oklahoma uses old cars to advertise their 60’s themed restaurant and Happy Days Motel.
Of course, what would a Car Art post be without limos with Longhorns on their hoods??
I have run across a couple of places where cars have been integrated into the buildings. Here is one example from western 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.
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…
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…
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!!!
In early April 2013 I had the opportunity to drive across the Hi-Line (US Route 2) in Northern Montana and then made our way to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore and all the across South Dakota to Mitchell and the Corn Palace. With another work trip to Idaho, I took a different route and, similar to the Hi-Line Drive, I mainly took US Route 18 (also known as the Oyate Trail) as it crosses most of South Dakota. It goes through many small and unique towns.
The Oyate Trail is a 388 mile route that generally follows SD 50 and US Route 18 across southern South Dakota. The name is derived from the Lakota word “Oyate”, which means “a people or a nation” and “Ochanku”, which is Lakota for “trail.” Thus, the trail of nations, initially meaning the trail to the various Lakota Nations — the Yankton, the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Sioux nations. But, the meaning is even more complex with the coming of the Europeans and the mixture of their cultures along the trail.
I started off in Kentucky on May 31 and spent the evening near Omaha, NE. On June 1 I headed north towards South Dakota, entering South Dakota in Sioux City on I-29. I took the freeway into the small town of Elk Point, another of the many places that Lewis and Clark had visited. They made camp nearby the area in August 1804.
My main stop in Elk Point was at Edgar’s Soda Fountain, a throwback to the good old days. Originally opened in Centerville in 1906 in a drug store, the soda fountain was taken out of the drug store in the 1960s. It eventually was rediscovered and rebuilt by the granddaughter of the drug store owner. They have even brought out the old manuals and have some concoctions directly from those manuals, such as The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages.
Owner Barb Wurtz was there and the staff was ultra friendly. They had an old-fashioned candy case, nice neon, original wooden booths and bar seating. Its a great place to take a quick break off the road.
I also wanted to drop by Edgar’s with my good friend and amazing guitarist Edgar Cruz in mind. So, “Welcome to Edgar’s!”
After consulting with the great staff at Edgar’s, I determined to make my way along US Route 18 (the Oyate Trail), which would take me across the lush prairies of southern South Dakota and into some small and unique towns. After visiting the Lewis and Clark Campsite monument n Elk Point, I headed north on I 29 to Exit 47 near Beresford and then west to Viborg. The Oyate Trail actually starts in Vermillion, SD, just NW of Elk Point, but I wanted to hit Viborg first.
Viborg is a town of around 700 and was settled by Danish immigrants in the 1860s. The town is named for Viborg in Denmark. The town was originally named Daneville, but with the coming of the railroad in the 1890s, the residents had to move a bit north so they could be along the railroad. Thus Viborg was born and was finally incorporated in August 1903.
As I drive through town I got glimpses of the culture. The Kountry Kookin’ Cafe, with its built in neon sign above the door, gave me cause for chuckle. The window on the right says “Dis is vare Sven loves the dinners” and the window on the left says “Dis is vare Ole gets the pie.” Had there been time, it could have been “Dis is vare Sumoflam gets the lunch!”
Like many small towns, there are the old fashioned theaters that thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. But these are a dying breed so I try to get shots of them when I go through these small towns.
On the outskirts of Viborg I came across this unusual, yet decorative grain silo. As I drive the back roads of this country, whether in Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin or elsewhere, silos are a common site. Yet, I don’t recall ever seeing brick silos like this one, nor do I recall the decorative nature. After a bit of internet research (thank you Google!!) I have learned that these are Glazed Block Silos. They are apparently very common in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. I am assuming that they are of Scandinavian origin, though I have not yet found anything definitive.
Living in Lexington I see plenty of horses. But, I couldn’t help but notice this happy trio in the lush prairie grasses near Viborg. I sat and watched them for a few minutes as they frolicked and played.
From Viborg I headed straight north on SD 19 past Swan Lake to US 18 and began my trek across the state.
I passed the two establishments along the road. Both were basically in the middle of nowhere. Meridian Corner has a fairly active Facebook Page. They are apparently quite popular and have T-shirts, etc.
I rolled into Menno, SD next. Menno was settled by German-Russian immigrants around 1874. Continuing west my next stop was in Tripp, SD. This was the first Tripp I have experienced on my many trips!! The town slogan “Easy to Find, Hard to Leave”. For me, its as my friend Antsy McClain says “Its All in the Trip”.
Tripp recently became a destination for a group of Amish families that moved from Wisconsin in 2010. This, of course, brings the need for a blacksmith. The name on the barn reminded me of the Amish, so I checked and indeed, as the link above explains, the first Amish in South Dakota are in this area.
I continued west on US 18 passing by farmland and a few trees. I found one set of trees that struck me…these were near the junction with US 281, where US 18 heads due south towards Ravinia, SD.
US 18/US 281 again heads west near the base of Lake Andes, which is a National Wildlife Refuge. As I drive along the southern border of the lake, I saw a huge flock of white birds. From my viewpoint I thought they were swans, but I decided to take a closer look so I took a drive into the small park just before getting to the town of Lake Andes, SD. I was thrilled as I got closer and discovered it was a huge flock of pelicans!!
Seeing the Pelicans was a real thrill for me as these were birds that I have never had a close encounter with. While at the lake, I also saw some beautiful purple wildflowers.
From Lake Andes I continued south on US 18/281 to cross over the dam at the Randall Creek Recreation Area. At the top of the hill past the dam I had an excellent view of the Old Fort Randall Cemetery.
US 18 continued west, then southwest for a while and then began heading northwest again towards the town of Bonesteel.
The town of Bonesteel was basically the first town of many on the actual Oyate Trail that I would hit on this drive. Bonesteel has an interesting name, named after H.E. Bonesteel and hasjust about 300 people.
The railroad first made its way into Bonesteel in 1902. there were a limited number of registrations for land ownership and eventually many of the prospective homesteaders fought leading to what was called “the Battle of Bonesteel.”
On the outskirts of town is a small little restaurant. Great name…
The next town on the trail was Burke, SD, another town with about 600 people. As I approached town I ran into a place called Rooster Tales Hunting Service. They had a unique sign and even a patriotic hay bale! Turns out that they have a Pheasant hunting service.
This part of South Dakota is considered the pheasant capital of the U.S. (including a number of towns competing for the title). So, despite the small towns, there are hotels and accommodations for pheasant hunting enthusiasts.
Despite its size, Burke is also home to the Burke Stampede Rodeo, supposedly the largest amateur rodeo in the Midwest.
The next major stop on the road is Gregory, South Dakota. This is in the midst of pheasant country. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the U.S. and this area of the Oyate Trail is one of the centers of the pheasant hunting world (and, in Gregory there is also a Gorilla or two….)
I got a kick out Mary Bob’s Bar — out in Kentucky we hear of “Jim Bob” all the time, but I have never heard of “Mary Bob.”
The Hipp Theatre in Gregory is a community volunteer run theatre, but does show up to date first run movies.
Then there is the giant pheasant….
Apparently Gregory is “The ground-zero of pheasantdom” according to Fortune Magazine in 1992.
Next stop was not too far — Dallas, South Dakota
Dallas is a really small town but has some interesting things…
Frank Day’s looks run down, but, apparently it is one of the “happening places” on the Oyate Trail. They have fashioned themselves as an old western-style saloon and also seem to be an attraction for bikers.
Moving west on US 18 I finally arrived at one of my “planned destinations.” Those that follow my blogs know that I am always looking for unique town names like Uncertain (TX), Boring (OR), Peculiar (MO), Tightwad (MO), Odd (WV) and more. Well, this town is a real Winner!!! Yes, Winner, South Dakota.
Winner was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and later part of the Dakota Territory, which was established by an act of Congress and a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Winner was named because it was the “winner” in the struggle to establish a town along the railroad right-of-way when the Chicago North Western began moving west from Dallas, SD in 1909.
Frank Leahy was one of Notre Dame’s most famous coaches. He grew up in Winner.
While I was in Winner, I stopped for a drink and a snack at a gas station. I just had to ask…had anyone ever won it big in the lottery in Winner. And, believe it or not, there was indeed a winning ticket sold, and, ironically, the winner’s name was Neal Wanless (awfully close to Winless…). Wanless was a Winner in Winner to the tune of $232 million. He apparently has many friends that frequent the Pheasant Bar.
Want a winning place to buy groceries? Try this place….
The Motel Parking lot above is home to another Pheasant Statue, as seen below…
Now, for that “Pheasant Capital” bit…. Research has shown me that Redfield, South Dakota is the “Pheasant Capital of the World” and they have even registered the phrase. Redfield is in the northeast section of South Dakota, north of Mitchell. As late as 1994 there has been a dispute between Winner and Redfield as to which is the “official” capital. I found an interesting article that shows that on October 26, 1994 Redfield had trademarked the phrase. Winner still claims it as well. But, Gregory is still the “ground-zero of pheasantdom.” I think this argument has gone to the birds!!!
I continued to head further west to Mission, which would be my last stop on the Oyate Trail as I planned to head north to the Badlands from there. By the way, Mission, SD is the home of Bob Barker, famous as the host of The Price is Right. The town of Mission is in the Rosebud Indian Reservation, home of the Sicangu Lakota tribe of the Sioux Nation.
While driving through Mission I came across this colorful restaurant called the Buffalo Jump. It is owned and operated by Native Americans and offers buffalo burgers, Indian tacos, and, yes, Asian, Mexican, Italian, seafood and other goodies.
From Mission I headed north on US 83 until I arrived at SD 63.
I found it interesting that my GPS sent me onto SD 63. I think my GPS is learning my penchant for back roads. SD 63 is 23 miles GRAVEL ROAD that cuts mainly through the Rosebud Indian Reservation to Belvidere, SD on I-90 near Badlands National Park. What a wonderful drive it was!!
I crossed over the White River just south of Belvidere. The White River is the 36th longest river in the US at 506 miles. It truly is whitish gray as a result of the clay, sand and volcanic ash it picks up along the way.
I finally got back onto pavement as I entered Belvidere, just a small town with 63 people and perhaps that many horses and goats….
It was time to fuel up so I stopped at the Badland’s Travel Stop in Kadoka just off of I-90 west of Belvidere. I loved the skies behind it.
Kadoka, South Dakota is “The Gateway to the Badlands.” The name Kadoka is a Lakota word which means “Hole in the Wall,” but the town doesn’t seem that way….
I really got a kick out of all of the homemade signs in Kadoka…..
And then there is the old Wagon Wheel motel sign…
And that was the end of the road to the Badlands — Kadoka is the “Gateway!”
On my next post I will have some great shots of prairie dogs and badlands!!