Monday, June 26, 2017

(33) The Lazy (and frugal) Man's Guide to Navigating the Lincoln Highway

Lincoln Highway Headquarters, Franklin Grove, Illinois
June 24, 2017
The Lazy man's Guide to Navigating the Lincoln Highway

In college I majored in history and political science. I also took a smattering of philosophy courses. I guess that's why I became a lawyer, what else could I do? One of the philosophy courses that I took had as assigned reading a little book entitled: The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. I don't recall learning much from the course, and I think I even got less out of the book, but the title always stuck with me. That title came back to me today as Linda and I navigating the Lincoln Highway out of Iowa and across Illinois.

Illinois Backroads
For me, navigating an old road can be hard work. I could not do it without my wife's help. But even with Linda's able assistance, navigation has often proved a challenge. I've happened on using the GPS in such a way that it keeps me off of the interstates, and close to the alignments of Highway 30 and the Lincoln Highway. The first thing I do is set my GPS to avoid toll roads. I then plot a course from where I am (that's always a good place to start) to my next stop. Usually I don't want to travel much more than 30 to 90 miles in a segment. When I look at the course that the GPS has plotted, I find that it invariably keeps me off the interstates and usually keeps me on or very close to the Lincoln. At the times where my course deviates from the Lincoln Highway, it does not deviate much and, whats more, it follows roads that are much like what the Lincoln Highway must have looked like in the 1920's.  This "lazy man's" approach worked splendidly for us today. When we finish a segment, we plot our next stop and so on. If the
GPS is too far from where we want to go, we use the road map and the "View map" function on the GPS. 

Last night the trains returned in the middle of the night. One passed by at 2:15 AM and another at 4 AM. At least the third waited until the decent hour of 6:30 AM before deciding to wake us.

Our campsite was even prettier by morning light.

Morning on the Mississippi
Nonetheless, we enjoyed the campsite and the beautiful scenery. The Mississippi in the morning was a sight to behold. While I could have done without some of the bugs, that was a small price to pay.

We had breakfast at a café in Clinton, Iowa. It seemed to be a place where the locals congregate and we were soon recognized as outsiders. This is not a bad thing in the Midwest, because Midwesterners are very welcoming and immediately wanted to know where we were from and where we were going and how they could help.

I struck up a conversation with Wayne at the next table. Wayne told me how his grandfather had traveled the Lincoln in a Model T and by camping. When Wayne learned that Linda and I had started out from California, and in particular that we had spent the night at Donner Lake, he told me that he had been to Truckee, California the year before for a class reunion. I asked Wayne what kind of class reunion this was and where he went to school?
Wayne and I after breakfast
I was surprised when Wayne told me that it was a high school reunion and that he had gone to a small high school near Clinton. apparently, there are less than a dozen people in Wayne's class, including 1 from Truckee. The classmate from Truckee raised the point that he was always travelling to Iowa, and that perhaps it was time the others travelled to California. All agreed and the next reunion was held in Truckee.

I was even more surprised when Wayne told me that when he was in California he met a gregarious gentleman at Donner Summit who noticed his Lincoln Highway hat. The man then gave Wayne a gift that would go with his hat. This piqued my curiosity so I asked a couple of more questions and was surprised to learn that the gregarious gentleman at Donner Summit was my old friend Norm Saylor. It is a small world.

Linda considering trading the old 
rooster in for a newer model
Courthouse in Clinton, Iowa
After breakfast, Linda and I stopped at a couple more places in Clinton to take photographs. I'm impressed by the substantial nature of these Midwestern towns. Everything is built to last and in most cases it has lasted.
Iowa in the rearview mirror

Next came the moment I had been waiting for, crossing the mighty Mississippi. I drove and Linda took pictures. It was a crisp clear morning and a view from the bridge was stunning. What a great country this is!
Mississippi, from the Bridge

Am I excited, or what?


Our first city in Illinois was Fulton. We stopped at the visitor center in Fulton, which was a beautiful windmill. It is an accurate reproduction of German and Dutch windmills of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Dixon Postcard

From Fulton it was on to Dixon, the hometown of President Ronald Wilson Reagan. 
Reagan's boyhood home
 The visitor center was closed, but it was fun to poke around the exterior bit. I read once that President Reagan worked as a lifeguard at a beach along the Rock River. The story I read credited him with saving 70 lives. I was always a bit skeptical of the story and thought maybe it was an exaggeration for political purposes. However, when I saw the Rock River, I can now see that there is a likelihood that there is more truth than exaggeration in the story. The Rock is a fast-moving and dangerous looking River. At least the part of it that flows through Dixon.

After we finished looking at the Reagan sites, we drove down to the river to pay a visit to another Lincoln statue. The statue was of young Abe at the time he served in the Black Hawk war.
A young Abe, ready to serve
It's hard to imagine that less than two hundred years ago this populated area was rugged frontier.
Before leaving Dixon, we passed under the Dixon arch. Many towns featured arches above the Lincoln Highway or other prominent highways. It's nice that the Dixon arch has survived, as has Reno arch and some others.
Dixon Arch
Franklin Grove

Franklin Grove Postcard

After Dixon it was on to Franklin Grove and a visit to the Lincoln Highway headquarters. I was able to get away with buying two more books. One on the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania and another on Carl Fisher. Linda is getting tired of books on Highway history and automobiles.

Rochelle, Aurora
Restored Gas Station serving as a visitors center in Rochelle, Ill.
From Franklin Grove we moved on to Rochelle, Illinois. There we viewed a 1919 gas station. After Rochelle we proceeded towards the city of Aurora, travelling through DeKalb. DeKalb features 1 of only 6 theatres named "Egyptian", since 1 of the other 6 is in our hometown of Boise, we needed to take a look. It was worth the stop.
DeKalb's Egyptian
Boise's Egyptian

Along the way we viewed additional Lincoln Highway murals. My friend Bob Cooper is from Aurora and he has always spoken glowingly of his hometown. I'm happy to report that there is no exaggeration of the city or its buildings.

Aurora's Stone CB&Q Roundhouse
We viewed a stone Roundhouse of the CB&Q Railroad which has been restored and has a number of businesses in. Unfortunately the information center did not have any maps showing us the way to Bob's boyhood home.
Paramount Theatre in Downtown Aurora
We next traveled to Joliet Illinois and saw the point at which the Lincoln Highway and Route 66 cross. Lincoln Highway aficionados can get sensitive about Route 66 because it has a catchier song, a television series and consequently has a greater presence in the popular psyche. When my brother-in-law heard that I was traveling across country he assumed that I would be traveling on Route 66.

Hi Mike!

He is very generous and bought me a commemorative silver coin to carry for luck. I carried the coin, and mostly it has brought the luck, and finally today I was able to finally get a picture of it in an appropriate setting.

Intersection of Lincoln and Dixie Highways
in Chicago Heights, Ill.
We traveled through Chicago Heights before crossing into Indiana. At Chicago Heights we saw the point at which the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway cross. The Dixie Highway was another inspired idea from Carl Fisher. It provided a road for snowbirds to use in traveling from the Midwest to Miami Beach, which incidentally, is another inspired idea of Carl Fisher's.
Ideal Section, the original
"Demonstration Project."

After crossing into Indiana I was happy that we were able to find, locate and stop at the Henry Osterman Memorial. Henry Osterman was the field secretary for the Lincoln Highway Association, later he became Vice President of the Lincoln Highway, Association. It was Henry Osterman, more than anyone in persuaded the Army to demonstrate its ability to move men, and equipment from the East Coast to the West Coast motor transport. 

Osterman was a relatively young man at the time of his death. He had just married a young wife, who became a young widow. He dedicated his life to the highway and it is a shame that he lost it on the road that he loved.

Osterman Memorial on busy Hwy. 30 in Dyer Indiana
We covered less than 200 miles today but there was much to see and it was a long day. Because we are tired were going to cheat a bit tonight and stay in a motel. I hope are not developing a bad habit.


  1. A good read. Swing by the Indiana Dunes if you get the chance.

  2. You must have missed the best laundromat ever in Clinton Iowa! It was a combination laundromat and a bar. Watching cloths go round and round is a lot better while working on a beer.

  3. Nice pictures of the Egyptian theaters - especially the film featured in Boise!

    1. Thanks Tom. The movie is available on Amazon. I think it is a movie everyone should see.