Thursday, June 22, 2017

(30) America's Hometown Produced America's Sweetheart

Lincoln Highway, "The Main Street of America"

Tuesday June 20 - Thursday June 22

I have decided that I like the Midwest very much. While I had expected a dull monotonous landscape I found my surroundings to be very pleasing. Particularly here in Western Iowa. The countryside here resembles Palouse country of Western Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Loess Hills of Western Iowa, with
Terraces to prevent erosion.

The rolling hills of both regions are covered with  green crops produced by a rich soil that is fertile and produces outstanding crops. In the case of the Palouse it is Wheat. Here, in Iowa it is corn and soybeans.

The Midwest was formed by the the great ice sheets that covered North America during successive ice ages. The ice leveled everything in its path and ground rocks to dust. In the case of Western Iowa this dust is blown and deposited onto the rolling hills. It is called loess. Soils of the Palouse were deposited there when the dam in Lake Missoula broke. This also occurred during an Ice Age. The resulting flood scoured the scab lands in Washington, but deposited much of the rich soil into the region of the Palouse. Soils are different and the formation of the land was different but the result appears to be much the same. Rich fertile farmland which produces abundant crops and the basis of a way of life for a hard working people.

Farm in Western Iowa

Lincoln Highway Conference in America's Heartland

CeCe Otto Sings for the opening reception of the 
Lincoln Highway Association

We are in Denison, Iowa for the twenty-fifth annual Lincoln Highway Conference. This is a gathering of road enthusiasts. The Modern Lincoln Highway Association was formed to foster the preservation of the Lincoln Highway, its history and structures along Highway. I think their efforts have met with success.

To most people attending a conference of road enthusiasts would be incredibly boring. To me it is not. I am interested in history and transportation history. I also find that joining special interest clubs, like the Lincoln Highway Association, provides me an opportunity to meet a cross-section of people which I might not ordinarily have the opportunity to meet and that would have been my great loss. I've  found that I have much more in common with these folks than simply transportation history or the love of old pavement.

Tuesday evening was the opening gathering of the conference. I met CeCe Otto who has a beautiful voice and was trained in classical opera. She branched out from Opera into singing songs of the early twentieth century. In particular she likes songs about World War I, the Lincoln Highway and other popular songs of the 1910's and the 1920's. She is enthusiastic about her art and that comes across.
The opening gathering was also brought to life by Warren and Elizabeth from Austin, Nevada.
Warren was dressed as a World War I doughboy and Elizabeth as a World War I nurse. Elizabeth is an expert in vintage clothing, which she collects, displays and on special occasions even wears. (A special occasion is every opportunity she and Warren have.)

"In my medical opinion Linda, your husband needs help."

Touring Western Iowa

Hon. Daniel Leinen,
Mayor of Denison, Iowa
My conclusion that Iowa, like Nebraska, has firmly embraced the Lincoln Highway was reinforced Tuesday night. The mayor of Denison addressed the gathering, as did the head of the local Chamber of Commerce. The mayor read a proclamation which had been passed by the City Council.

Vintage Service Station, Western Iowa

Wednesday morning the conference featured a bus tour east of Denison. The buses traveled on the original Lincoln Highway even in cases where the original Lincoln Highway had been superseded by later alignments and by US Highway 30. For much of the morning we found ourselves on gravel roads. While I don't generally prefer gravel roads I found that with a little or maybe more than a little bit of imagination, one could gain a feeling what navigating these roads must been like at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Mahanay Bell Tower and Lincoln Statue
Jefferson, Iowa
We stopped for Lunch in Jefferson, Iowa. The centerpiece of Jefferson is the Mahanay bell tower which is 168 feet tall and features a carillon. 

View from Mahanay Bell Tower
The view was spectacular. The area around Jefferson is much flatter than the terrain around Denison. Consequently we had an unobstructed view of the city and the surrounding countryside.

J.E. Moss was a Civil War veteran who had been decorated by President Lincoln. Moss was a great admirer of Lincoln and had Busts of Lincoln erected adjacent to his property on the Lincoln Highway to honor the fallen president.

Moss Lincoln Bust near Scranton Iowa
Thomas Jefferson finds a quiet place to 
proof the Declaration in Jefferson, Iowa

On Thursday the bus tour continue traveling west of Denison, to Council Bluffs Iowa and into Nebraska visiting Omaha and Elkhart.

Union Pacific Museum in Council Bluffs Iowa
In Council Bluffs we visited the Union Pacific Museum and in Omaha we saw a number of sites. Once again we spent some time on the gravel roads and even on a long section of brick road. On the way we were also "treated" to travel on what are called the stair steps. The stair steps result from roads following section lines. I believe that farmers property adjacent to section lines were required to provide right-of-way along the section lines. While the state has had the authority to condemn land from roads would cut across farmers' property, that would be expensive. As a result of not wanting to condemn land motorist were treated to a sharp 90° curve every quarter-mile or mile or so. Modern Highway thirty cuts from the Southwest to the Northwest crossing Southwest Iowa. Originally Lincoln Highway roads in the Midwest either went east-west or north-south with a sharp turn every quarter-mile or mile or so. This was dangerous even with cars not capable of the high speeds are automobiles today.

Donna Reed
Linda reflecting on her Wonderful Life and hoping George 
Bailey will stop in. "Hot Dog!"

Tuesday night we went to the barbecue with the other members of the Lincoln Highway Association, held at the Crawford County Fairgrounds. After dinner we went to downtown Denison to the Donna Reed Museum. Donna Reed is the crown princess of Denison. Although Donna became a famous actress of movies and television in the 1940's through the 1960's, apparently she never forgot her roots. Much of the appeal that she had in Hollywood is based upon values that she took with from Denison.

The Donna Reed Museum features a soda similar to the one in "It's a Wonderful Life". As you can see from the picture, Donna still looks great and she was agreeable to having her picture taken with me. I was surprised how short she was. I felt just like Jimmy Stewart.

Me with Donna Reed

Tomorrow I'll attend some presentations on Lincoln Highway history. Between my time here in Denison and my time in the counties north I will certainly take with me fond memories of Western Iowa.

1916 Buick. Unrestored and still running.

1 comment:

  1. Immensely enjoying your writing style, the photos and the history. Will share when Paula and Bev this weekend. Looking forward to the next update. Jan