Miata Farewell Drive
In the spring of 1991 I bought my first Mazda Miata in Alaska and I loved that car to death. It is the vehicle I drove out of Alaska in 1997 (described earlier) and after arriving at my new home in Tennessee the love didn't fade. Sure, it had no air conditioning and, in my new hot humid home, it would have been welcome but I continued to drive it whenever possible. The time eventually came, in 2006, after 15 years and nearly 130,000 miles it was time for a replacement. Mazda was bringing out an updated version of the car so in the Spring I bought a 2006 model.
It was a great car, more comfortable, and it had AC. Still, it didn't get the use that it really should have. Maybe it was just me getting old but by 2012 I decided to put it up for sale. Before putting it on the market I thought that it deserved at least one more good long road trip. So, after a thorough detailing and checkup I set out for the west coast meaning to follow the route of the Lincoln Highway.
For those who don't recognize the name, the Lincoln Highway was the first trans-continental route, long before the more famous Route 66 was dreamed of. I grew up virtually on the edge of the highway in Pennsylvania and my trip was intended to start at my boyhood home and reach the western terminus in San Francisco. Where possible I would stay on the original route. Or at least one of the routes since over the years it did wander a bit. The logo seen here is ubiquitous along the highway and I probably photographed 100 versions of it but I'll try to avoid posting all of them. I'll do the same with many of the roadside oddities and mimetic architecture that abound on an old highway.
Day 1, 10 May 2012
↑ ↓ I drove up to Pennsylvania a couple of days before my trip was meant to begin to visit with my mother but on the the morning of the tenth it was time to set out in earnest. On the way to my starting point I snapped a few pictures as reminders of childhood. On the way through McKeesport, now a sad relic of its lively prosperous past, I stopped at the Carnegie Library which was one of my fondest memories. The building had been restored and remodeled from my time and actually looked better than it did 55 years back. Part of this is the overall cleanliness of the exterior which would have been impossible when I was growing up because of the heavy industry belching smoke along every river. With the industry (mostly) gone the air and the buildings are much cleaner. I got my library card here when I was perhaps eight years old and in later years I sometimes walked the 3+ miles to the library. Probably no children today would be allowed such freedom but back in the day we were all what is now called free range. I drove by the little house where I mostly grew up on the way up to my starting point. It is amazing how small the house looks now even though successive owners seem to have added to it. Then it was up Foster road to the junction with US Route 30 which is the number associated with the Lincoln Highway in this area as well as in a few others. Right across the junction is the Grandview Cemetery where an amazing number of my kin are buried. The extended family, for large part, all seem to have stayed within 50 miles of where they were born. Here is one last sign that will be familiar to millions who live in the tri-state area pointing the way to the most popular and arguably the oldest amusement parks in the area.
So, with a left turn I was off on the Lincoln Highway but I didn't get too far before a short detour to my old high school. Westinghouse Memorial HS was named after George Westinghouse the most prominent industrialist in the immediate area. His Westinghouse Air Brake factory as well as a major headquarters building called The Castle was there in Wilmerding and was a major money machine for the whole area. The school has been re-purposed a number of times since I graduated in 1965 and I don't know what has happened since then. It was tentatively sold for unknown purposes back in 2014 but nobody knew what it was intended for. So back on the route again I came to the George Westinghouse Memorial Bridge. As I wrote Westinghouse was a major figure in the area and his name appears everywhere. This impressive old feature was just part of the landscape when I was growing up but in 1932 it was a marvel named the longest concrete arch structure in the world. To take this picture of it I did a bit of trespassing and went onto heavily posted property in the Turtle Creek valley below.
10:20AM So, on to the west and into Pittsburgh. I didn't really want to mess around in downtown but I did manage a short side trip to visit the Duquesne Incline which I remembered (vaguely) from a school field trip way back when. The city once had a number if incline railways which served to overcome the inconvenient topography by carrying passengers to and from the high bluffs to the work below. There are only two of them left now. I chose this one because it gives a good view of Pittsburgh's Point where the three rivers meet. In the photo you might think you know why Pittsburgh is called 'City of Bridges' but having 400+ of them is the real reason. Moving on, for a long section west of Pittsburgh it was impossible to leave modern freeways and find the old route.
Leaving Pennsylvania I was now in West 'By God' Virginia but only for a very short time since there are only about five miles of Lincoln Highway in that state and it didn't get those until 1927 when one of the realignments moved it there. What did I see? Well the only thing I actually photographed was the world's largest teapot but there are also the world's largest pottery plant.
Onward into Ohio, my third state. It was almost 3:00 before I found a remaining section in Dalton, Ohio. There were a few short sections of the old highway but only in 100-500 yard bits. I pressed on and nearly 7:00 I called it quits for the day and checked into a motel in Delphos, Ohio and went hunting for some food. It started to appear that my dual USB power supply that I had been using to keep by GPS unit and mobile powered up was starting to fail. Just what I needed. I could use one or the other using a spare in the car but was limited because there was only one outlet in the car. Oh well, in for the night. It will wait until tomorrow.
Day 2, 11 May 2012
↑ ↓ In writing about yesterday, I missed a couple of things passed along the way that probably should be mentioned. I'll do it here because this day things to write about were pretty sparse. This is probably going to be true of a lot of days since driving through flat farm country there is much sameness and very little stands out (or up, give the planar nature of the terrain).
Yesterday's route went through East Liverpool, Ohio. Among its claims to fame is that it was the place where 'Pretty Boy' Floyd, a noted depression-era criminal, was killed. His death mask is still on display at Sturgis House, once a mortician's home, and now a historical site. Other items are yet another Carnegie Library, a really magnificent example, and The Museum of Ceramics which I actually toured briefly. To be honest I stopped more because I needed a toilet break but we won't tell them that. Oh, by the way, I just looked it up and found that there are/were 104 Carnegie Libraries in the state of Ohio. He was clearly a very generous man. OK. A bit further down the road I came across loads of historical markers, most of which were ignored since there are literally hundreds of them along the highway and many of the 'historical' places and events were sometimes not all that historical in a larger sense. I will scatter a few of them here and there simply because some of the drive was pretty much devoid of anything beyond the sight of a grain elevator in the indefinite distance. Such is life on the farm. Oh well, enough about catching up with yesterday, lets see if there was anything today.
As I wrote in yesterday's missive, I ended my first day in Delphos, Ohio which is in the western part of the state. The city is the county seat of Van Wert and this building is its courthouse. I present this amazing fact not because anybody would be interested but as a question. Why is it so ugly? They clearly did this intentionally, but why? This may be an important question because as I drove across a lot of the country it seemed as though the various seats of county government were in a competition to outdo their neighbors in the scale and over-the-top design of their official buildings. I saw more examples of this than I can count (or at least recall) and after a while I stopped snapping pictures of them. What else did I see that eventually became too common to photograph? Well, one of these were statues and other images of Abraham Lincoln. Great man? Yes, definitely, but after a dozen statues I'd had enough. By the way, one other picture from Delphos is of the now-defunct Balyeat's. As the sign says they were nationally famous and that is very common. When a roadside attraction is not busy being merely known, they are sometimes nationally famous and the more imaginative ones are world famous. This particular place went out of business a few years after I drove through.
Further down the road and in Indiana. There is hardly anything beyond a sign to tell you when you leave one state and enter the other. Certainly there is no change of landscape and the buildings and roads and especially the farms all look the same. Anyway, another state, another county, another county seat, and another over-the-top bit of architecture. This is the Whitley County Courthouse in Columbia City, Indiana with my Miata showing in the corner. Fairly nice-looking little town but my notes say that I couldn't find a single open restaurant at 10:30AM so I pressed on down the road.
Driving on I passed into Illinois. Again, there is nothing beyond a sign to mark the transition — it all looks the same. To make things worse, there is a major discrepancy in my notebook and I have no explanation for what happened. Major stuff in missing and not even the date is noted; just four entries existing between the sections for May 10th and May 12th so those four must be it for the 11th. Right now I don't have a clue.
Any way, Illinois it is. Pictures prove it since I snapped several shots of the Joliet Correctional Center at 3:30PM. If you don't recognize it, this facility has been used in various films and TV shows. Probably the most famous, at least for my generation, is The Blues Brothers as the facility that Jake Blues was released from at the beginning of the film.
My notes in disarray, I must assume that I stayed overnight in Aurora, IL. At least I note on the next page saying that is where I awoke. So, onward across Illinois, land of Lincoln and the Lincoln Highway.
Day 3, 12 May 2012
↑ ↓ The notebook says
Leaving dumpy Motel 6 in
Aurora at about 6:45CST Starting to rain! so that is that. The rain never really got going so at least I could look
forward to some top-down time later on. I found my way back to the marked portion of the LH before DeKalb, IL. Overall it seems
that this state has done more to play up the connection and no other state has the way so well marked.
A short while later I was in Malta, the site of the first seedling mile of the LH. The way the route was promoted was to have each community along the way improve "their" stretch of the route to standards being promoted by the organizers. Malta, IL was the first to reach the goal although it probably didn't mean a lot to the long distance travelers since coming and going they would still be facing horrendous conditions. Guess you have start somewhere though. As I wrote, Illinois has done a good job of marking the old highway. Some of them are now unpaved farm-type roads and, true to Midwestern ways, seem to run on in straight lines forever. I hope you will forgive me for the inclusion of some video in this tale. I'll do my best to keep them down in number and size.
Anyway, on through Morrison. The city is proud that it now has a covered bridge and I must admit that I've never seen one quite like it — very wide and of stoutly modern construction it leads to a park north of the city. Actually I was more impressed by some of the old homes in the city. There is one stretch of them and many show some real creativity and sensitivity in their restoration. Sadly, at least one that would probably be a real stunner sits there with a horrible addition tacked onto the front blocking any view of the original design. Guess you can't win them all and perhaps someday someone will give it the care it needs.
Iowa was approaching quickly as I headed toward the Mississippi river but there were a few things left to see here. First was the headquarters of the Lincoln Highway Association in Franklin Grove, IL. It is a good place to pick up maps and literature although I got the impression that they were more of a gift and souvenir operation. I stopped there and waited for them to open but they were late because the regular person was ill or something and she had somebody else (wo)man the fort. I'll admit that I did buy one of the large stamped LH signs since, being flat, it could be stowed almost anywhere in the Miata. So, off toward the river and Iowa. Eventually I came to one of the most obvious roadside attention getters: a real Dutch windmill. This one acts as an information center in Fulton, IL right before the river crossing. Somehow I managed to not take a picture of the bridge but I did snap a few of the windmill.
So, safely across the Mississippi, I was in Iowa and, as expected it really looked no different than Illinois or Indiana, or Ohio but there was something a bit different coming up after I passed through Cedar Rapids. Guess what? There actually are rapids in Cedar Rapids although not the sort you might think of. On down the highway, in the little town of Colo there is a restored relic of early highway travel. At the crossroads of the Lincoln Highway (New York, NY to San Francisco, CA) and the Jefferson Highway (Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans, LA) a local entrepreneurial farm family started a camp for travelers which eventually grew into an early motel, cafe, and gas station. These have been restored to mid-20th century condition and operate still. I wound up staying there overnight. I've stayed at early cabin camps of the sort dating back to the era of the great depression and must say that this place captures the spirit pretty well but is a lot more comfortable and convenient. With that I'll wrap up the day.
Day 4, 13 May 2012
↑ ↓ This looks to be another puzzle of a day to reconstruct. For some reason there are only a few pictures; either I didn't take any or they got lost somewhere along the way despite my precautions. My notes are, well, problematic too but I'll do my best to figure out where I went and possibly why I didn't photograph anything.
According to notes I left the old motel north of Colo, IA at 7:00AM and got back on the old highway. I noted that I passed a
Barilla Pasta sign which I take to be their US factory in Ames. That would mean that I was on the LH, also called E41 or 930,
to the east of the city. Later on, I note:
Back on US30 after many miles of gravel. Maybe I'm being
overly obsessive in taking every bit of the old LH. Later still I note that I've been playing tag with the
same train for 30 miles and stopped for it three times at grade crossings now and complain yet again about tailgating drivers
despite miles and miles of open road for them to pass safely. There had been a lot of that going on in this part of the country
so maybe the locals just don't like tourists taking their time and looking around (but still traveling at the limit). A note
says that I've been traveling through the Loess Hills and I'll admit I just had to look that up on Google. It essentially
dunes of fine blown soil over some certain height. I can certainly understand why things are blown around out here since there
is virtually nothing to stop the wind.
Finally the end of Iowa was near as I entered Pottawattamie County and Council Bluffs. I don't know why I did it but this stupid bridge got photographed three times and it isn't really interesting at all. Even the location is a mystery since it doesn't match anything I can find on Google Street View but the two buildings in the distance seem to be in Omaha, NE so it must be the river crossing. Or maybe not... My next notes say that the traffic in Omaha was horrible and it apparently took a long time to get back to the LH since the highway markings in Nebraska were few and far between. Last notes were me whingeing about paying $98 for a motel room but admitting that I had a great chili verde burrito and a couple of Dos XX beers at a restaurant across road so it wasn't all misery. Maybe I should dig out my old credit card bills to see if they can help me with dates and places.
Day 5, 14 May 2012
Man Working !
I am actively working on this page, maybe even as you are reading it and am adding to it day-by-day. It is proving to be remarkably difficult to reconstruct the drive from my notes and pictures but I am really trying to finish it in a timely manner Well, if timely means six years late...