Over time this blog has become a bit of a “love letter” to my home state of Iowa. As I’ve said before, I believe that every town in this state has something to recommend it: some sort of attraction, historic marker, great diner, or even roadside oddity. I am always excited to discover something new, and when you add in a scenic route to get there and the company of wonderful people, it just makes for some really great days.
Last summer, a few of the Chrome Divas made a fun discovery of this type when we rode to Oskaloosa and visited the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum. Now Oskaloosa is a great destination for several reasons, but the Pioneer Farm is rather special because it gives visitors an up-close, hands-on look at the way life was in the 1800’s-early 1900’s on an Iowa farm.
This ride took place in late May of 2015. By all accounts our Saturday should have been a wonderful upper-70’s kind of day. Instead, we left Des Moines under clouds with temperatures in the mid-50’s. I don’t think it broke 60 all day. We did hit just a tiny spit of rain, but fortunately that didn’t turn into anything major.
Val had planned the ride for us with the intention of having lunch in Oskaloosa. This was also a great choice for Seven Over, because she was participating in not one but TWO summer-long Scavenger Hunts and needed a couple pictures of herself in this area – one of them being at a “mule cemetery” located at the historic Nelson Farm.
The route to Oskaloosa was (as always in Iowa) beautiful despite the clouds, taking us on a meandering path through southeastern Polk County, then over to the tiny town of Monroe on a very nice (new to me) county road marked F70. From here it was south on Highway 14 to Highway 92, and east into Oskaloosa.
We parked on the square and had lunch at Smokey Row, a local place which we learned was housed in an old movie theater – obvious and evidenced by the presence of the original marquee, which now hangs inside the restaurant and is fully lighted. It was quite the display, and we managed to have some fun with the large statue at the front of the room as well. (We did not similarly molest the proud and regal statue of Chief Mahaska out on the Square. I’m sure he appreciated our modesty.)
After lunch we set off to find the mule cemetery, which was easy because it was kind of front-and-center at the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum property. Turns out, the original settlers of this farm had two white mules, Jennie and Becky, buried on-site in 1888 and 1897 – both animals served in the Civil War and were 34 and 42 years old at the time of their respective deaths.
As we were gathered in front of the little burial plot, a person we assumed to be a groundskeeper came up from one of the utility buildings and greeted us. This was “Joe,” whose last name I did not get but who – as it turned out – was a former mechanical engineer at Disneyland in California who had had enough of life as an Imagineer and retired to Iowa. Once here, and looking for something to keep him busy, he took the opportunity to do some odd jobs around this little historical farm/museum and ended up in charge of the property care-taking.
Joe was pretty keen on giving three goofy biker chicks the low-down on the mules Jennie & Becky, and invited us to also see the original log cabin that was first built on the property.
From this point forward, as Joe told us more and more details about the farm, he would mention in passing some other building – and then invite us to see it. So as it turned out, we got a very detailed tour from a person who knew literally every nook and cranny of the place. We saw not just the original cabin but also the larger two-story brick house built in 1853…
… the summer kitchen and “meat house”…
…the occasional odd contraption such as this underground storage unit…
With these buildings we took about two hours of Joe’s time – and when we finally ended up at the actual museum building itself, he accompanied us through that and gave us the official museum Scavenger Hunt list to complete. At this point we also met the manager of the museum. She and Joe both work on behalf of the Mahaska County Historical Society.
This was a really wonderful place and I think our sincere interest in the antiques and stories, and of course our animated and silly antics/bad jokes, perhaps encouraged Joe to share his knowledge. We so appreciated it!
Because we had spent so much time at the museum, we took a fairly direct route home along Highway 163 which put us back into Des Moines on the city’s east side. It was a fantastic and memorable day, and the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum is one of Iowa’s true historic treasures.
Had a lovely ride on May 23 with a small contingent of the Chrome Divas, with plans to have lunch in Ogden and then a visit to a small museum in Boone.
We left Sambetti’s around 10:30 in the morning and traveled north through the Saylorville Lake area, on to and through Madrid, and north toward the Iowa Arboretum along R26, but instead of turning east on E57 to the Arboretum, we turned west and then north again on R18. This took us to the junction of Highway 30, which we crossed, and then turned west to head into Ogden, Iowa along E41, part of the original Lincoln Highway.
This was a very pretty ride on a couple of roads I’ve never been on before – always so happy to discover a new path!
Ogden is a small town of about 2,000 people in Boone County, quiet but with a great little restaurant called The Lucky Pig – bigger inside than it looks outside, and excellent food… tenderloins, pulled pork, shoestring onion rings, and dessert… typical Iowa, too much great food at an affordable price!
After lunch we headed east out of Ogden to the town of Boone along E41, which is a really beautiful and curvy little stretch that on this day was showing off large patches of purple blooming Dame’s Rocket all along the way. (Although at this point in the ride, I admit I was not able to focus much on the scenery… just outside of Ogden, I ran over a black plastic piece of something and heard a sort of “kitt-oonk” noise under my front tire… I was worried sick for a few miles that the tire was going to blow out or go down. Fortunately this did not materialize but I know I missed getting my full measure of appreciation for E41!)
Our destination in Boone was to be the Mamie Doud Eisenhower birthplace and museum.
Mrs. Eisenhower served as First Lady of the United States during her husband Dwight’s Presidency from 1953-61; she was born in Boone, spent some time as a small child in Cedar Rapids, and then was eventually raised in Colorado. She traveled extensively throughout her husband’s military career. In fact, it was not until they left the White House in 1961 that the Eisenhowers actually owned their first home – a farm near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The birthplace home in Boone is lovely: a small yellow frame house on a quiet residential street, located directly across the street from where it originally sat. (It was moved to make room for a larger church, and since we parked our bikes in a church parking lot across from the house’s present location, it’s likely we parked our bikes right in Mamie’s original living room!)
The house has been fully restored and furnished, and is now managed by the Boone County Historical Society. It features original Doud family furniture, a period “summer kitchen” and garage (apparently including Mamie’s 1962 Plymouth Valiant in the garage!), and is surrounded by neatly tended perennial plants and landscaping.
Alas, despite indications that it was to be open for visitors until 5 pm, the museum was closed when we arrived around 1 so we could not go in. We pouted on the front porch, took a couple photos through the windows, and enjoyed the landscaping to the extent that we could.
Our trip home took us through Boone along Mamie Eisenhower Avenue and then South Story Street, which we took south out of town and became a park road through Ledges State Park. We continued through and exited the park, heading east and eventually junctioning with Highway 17 just north of Luther, Iowa.
A honk and a wave as we passed BFE Vintage Motorcycles in Luther – where they had all their vintage bikes parked out in the parking lot… a stop here would’ve been a great vintage bike show for sure! – and we continued on southward through Slater, Sheldahl and Polk City, again through the Saylorville area and then each of us “toward home.”
We will have to return to Boone to take the tour of Mamie’s house – and, maybe it’s time for another ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad.
Okay I promised to try to share some of last year’s rides, so here’s a wonderful trip that our Chrome Divas chapter took in April. This was our first ride of 2015, but as it turned out, the weather was really crappy so we ended up riding together in Seven Over’s truck instead. (Her plan for the day was irresistible, and we decided that having “social time” would be just as valuable as having “bike time.” Turmed out, we were right about that!)
Our monthly chapter rides are always the fourth Saturday of the month, and in 2015 our date happened to coincide with Arbor Day. As it also happened, author Mark Hirsch was making an appearance at the Iowa Arboretum near Madrid to showcase his unique book, That Tree. Janet/Seven Over is a huge fan of this book, and in fact has met Mark several times. Our first stop was therefore the Iowa Arboretum, where Mark was scheduled to participate in a tree planting.
An experience like this always fascinates me because it seems you just never can really know another person’s path unless you take time to talk with them. What I mean is – on the surface, isn’t it cool that a guy used his iPhone to post a picture-a-day of a particular favorite tree, and then published a book of the photos? Sure – but, there is so much more to the story. In Mark’s case, he was an active photojournalist who became the victim of an accident that left him with long roads of physical and emotional recovery. The photos he took and shared of “That Tree” actually became a huge part of his healing process.
We attended the tree planting at the Iowa Arboretum along with Mark and several other brave-the-weather Arboretum supporters, including a group of Cub Scouts. It was here that one of the folks on the Arboretum’s board of directors told a joke that made me giggle to the point of distraction. “Did you hear about the two silk worms who competed in a race? They ended up in a tie.” I’m serious, I almost peed my pants over that one.
But I digress. After meeting Mark and participating in the tree planting ceremony, we traveled just a couple miles up the road to Luther, Iowa where we took some time to discover BFE Vintage Motorcycles.
BFE is a cool little bike shop filled with old bikes of various makes and models, in various stages of repair or restoration. They have a small showroom full of bikes, multiple projects going at once, apparel for sale, and of course friends and fans on hand to talk shop.
Our final stop on the day’s journey was a fun little restaurant in Woodward called The Whistlin’ Donkey. This is a great example of a phenomenon in Iowa that I call trail bars. We have an extensive network in Iowa of bicycle/recreation trails, and there are bars and restaurants along many of them. Primarily they cater to bicyclists using the trails, but they’re often great stops for motorcyclists too and we have tried out several. The Donkey served up an excellent lunch and also invited us to record a message for their Facebook page.
Despite the mostly uncooperative weather, we had a wonderful day of fellowship and Iowa sight-seeing!
Haha so here we are again, yes I’m still riding… last year was not without some wonderful days on the bike… it was just mostly without blog posts!
When last we left, I was just getting ready to go on the air with Iowa radio legend Keith Kirkpatrick, who had invited me on his “Sportsman’s Notebook” program to talk about being a woman rider, a motorcyclist in general, and my e-book, “Get On.”
It was a lot of fun, and last year gave me two other opportunities to share my love of riding in Iowa: In May I gave a talk at the senior community where I work, really just a slide show of some of my favorite rides and sharing some great stories… the residents loved it and as a result of that in August I was invited to give a similar talk at our sister senior community in Indianola. The residents – again mostly from Iowa and familiar with many of the towns I was featuring – seemed to enjoy the stories I shared as well as the photos, and they were excited to step outside with me and have photos taken with the bike. It was truly a highlight of the year!
I’ll try to share a few more rides from the year as soon as I can – I’ve acquired a new computer since then and a lot of my photos are on the old machine. (blah blah excuses blah blah)
Anyway, THIS year we have had a weird Spring. I took two short rides back in February, then none in March, and here we are near the end of April and I just had my “next” pair of rides.
April 23 was the first ride of the Season for my Chrome Divas chapter, and it happened to coincide with the annual Blessing of the Bikes event at Big Barn Harley Davidson. So the Divas met up at Sambetti’s (our official gathering spot and Chapter sponsor!) and rode as a group up 2nd Avenue to Big Barn. We rolled in and were able to park as a group despite the crowd, which was… in the words of a current political candidate… HUUUUUUUGGEEE!!!
In fact, the drone photo below by Found Photography beautifully captures the scope and size of this year’s Blessing. (A sincere thanks to FP owner Jack for allowing me to use his photo – please be sure to check out his website for some absolutely stunning photo work!)
Enjoyed the Blessing and lunch (as always) and the Divas then took a short ride up to Saylorville Lake where we rode to the water’s edge… a brief stop to assess the lake level (it’s low) and take some pictures, and we headed our separate ways for home since some of the gals had late-afternoon plans. In all it was a lovely day but I was wishing the ride could have been longer.
The next day, Sunday, I was still wanting to ride but became ridiculously conflicted about whether to just go on a solo ride. You might remember I am not that big a fan of riding alone, (although I have certainly had some enjoyable solo rides)… but a number of factors convinced me to just do it. A look at my weather app suggested that we might get a thunderstorm late in the afternoon, and it was already about 2 pm. So I decided on just a short loop to the south along Highway 28, then east on Highway 92 to county road S23, and up S23 to the north through Palmyra – home of one of my favorite country churches.
Having discovered the Palmyra Church in 2012, I was a little saddened to see that its condition has deteriorated since that visit. Still on the National Historic Register, the exterior is showing some decay. I’m hopeful that there is still a group working on keeping this lovely little treasure intact.
Fun weekend… still very early in the season here but starting to work on my biker tan!
Hard to believe it’s mid-June already and I’m still working to get caught up on blog posts, but that seems to be my life these days… A little behind and getting behinder! But no matter, its a beautiful summer so far and i have some fun rides to share with you!
In mid-April a friend and I took a nice scenic ride down to the town of Milo. We had heard that there was some kind of tower in the middle of town that you could get up into and look around which, it seemed to me, was a great reason to ride!
We took a semi-scenic route through Des Moines which included a run through the blooming crab apple grove in Water Works Park, then down Highway 5 to the Palmyra Road (aka S-23), down to Highway 92 and then jogged over to pick up S23 again to the south. I have been through the north end of Milo several times over the years, always on my way to somewhere else, but never actually rode down to Main Street.
This time we sought out the little business district and discovered there really is a tower… a sort of super-gazebo on stilts. Unfortunately, it must’ve been too early in the season for the tower to be open because the little ladder staircase was hitched up tight against the floor of the gazebo so we couldn’t climb up. (I think this “closed attractions” theme is getting a little out of hand – ahem, CRESTON.)
This structure is certainly the oddest thing I’ve seen in the middle of a Main Street intersection in all my years of riding… in fact, it might be the only thing I’ve seen in the middle of a Main Street intersection… but I do think it would be neat to re-visit on a day when one could climb up and get the bird’s-eye view, assuming one is a bird perched… say, 12 feet off the ground…
Anyway after puzzling about the gazebo for a brief time we headed south out of Milo on S23, then at Lacona we turned west and took G76 – another favorite road! – over to New Virginia. Came back up north on R45 at New Virginia, then up Highway 28 through Martensdale, Norwalk, and Lakewood into West Des Moines.
In all it was about 120 miles and part of a lovely start to the riding season!
I didn’t really write up a “first ride of the season” post this year, but thought maybe instead I’d just recap some of the shorties I did earliest in the season. The first time I was on the bike was back in March, just a quick jaunt around town after juicing up the bike on a battery tender. Then maybe a week later I took a “real ride” a few miles west over to Van Meter – this one was about 40 minutes, but was just enough to get out on the highway for a bit and reassure myself that yes, I still remember how to do it!
On April 1 I took a very nice solo run up around Saylorville Lake that included a little shopping at Big Barn, some stops for “selfies,” and a short stop at the water’s edge for some overly-dramatic bike pictures (“bikies,” I’ve decided to call them).
I also stopped at an overlook by Camp Dodge, the Iowa National Guard training camp, to admire the retired military equipment. Do you remember a place from your childhood where you always wanted to stop every time you drove by with your parents, but they never would for some reason? Well, “the tank” at Camp Dodge was just such a place for me. So now that I am an adult, I do try to stop here whenever I can.
I wonder which place my daughter would name as The Place Mom Would Never Stop…?
I am a little behind on my ride reports these days – what can I say… shiny objects distracted me! But I’ve had a few lovely rides and must share a bit about them!
A few years ago, Steve and I rode over to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge with Garry, Shirley and Janet/Seven Over, but we didn’t have much time to wander around. I’ve always wanted to go back and study the learning center a little more carefully, and the Chrome Divas were amenable when I mentioned it as a potential ride destination in late April.
Our little chapter is now up to 12 members, though not everyone was able to attend the ride. Our day started with lunch at the Sugar Shack, a 50’s-themed diner in the nearby community of Altoona. We tend to get a little silly whenever we gather, and it’s always a round-robin of road stories and general fun conversation (hot dogs – why does everyone make fun of me for frequently ordering hot dogs? I mean, a good weiner is really hard to find, right?! Oh… wait.)
After lunch we headed off to the east along 8th St. SE in Altoona, which becomes County Road F48 heading toward Colfax, Lambs Grove and Newton. It eventually becomes old Highway 6 (the Grand Army of the Republic Highway), a classic east/west highway with lots of history, running through small towns with cool roadside attractions. I love F48 – there’s a hillcrest before coming down into Colfax where the view opens up and you can see a patchwork of farmland for several miles laid out – the first time I saw this view, several years ago, it hit me: Iowa is a beautiful state! I’ve been an advocate for it ever since.
Anyway, into Colfax and south on Highway 117 to Prairie City – good thing it was a short hop (less than 10 miles) from here to our destination, because the wind was absolutely brutal along this stretch!
What I remembered most about our previous visit to the Wildlife Refuge (also a prairie restoration area) was the long and winding entrance road with prairie grasses waving gently on either side – it creates a beautiful and calming “whhhissshh – whhhissshh” sound as you ride through it.
What was evident the moment we arrived this time, however, was that this trip would not offer up the same experience. The area had recenly been subject to an apparent controlled/prescribed burn, so the entire landscape along the entrance road was charred and blackened.
At first I was a bit disappointed and taken aback – but then I realized, in its own way this was beautiful too. And I knew, even before we learned more about the burn technique, that the burn had a purpose: to wipe out the invasive weed species and allow the native prairie plants to come back strengthened. Eventually we walked along a loop of the trail and could get a good look at the scope of the burn – several thousand acres, it turns out – and the Conservationist on duty in the learning center (along with a friendly volunteer named Larry) explained the process to us.
We also spent some time browsing in the gift shop. (A cute animal-identification book for kids called “Whose Butt?” set the tone for our shopping experience, much to Volunteer Larry’s chagrin. He would be forced to endure our silliness for the next two hours.) We watched a short educational video about the history of the Iowa prairie and the development of the wildlife refuge, and spent some quality time looking at the various exhibits about the flora and fauna of the (restored) prairie.
We also goaded poor Larry into posing with us for a group picture in front of the stuffed bison on display. I think (or at least I hope) he was happy to do so, especially considering that at least one of us made an actual purchase: Penney bought the cutest hat in the shop!
Thoroughly enjoyed this visit despite the lack of tall waving prairie grass, and we headed home late in the afternoon to the west along Highway 163. Going this direction, we had the tailwind so it was actually a very enjoyable ride back into Des Moines. We split off in various directions for home once we reached the eastern edge of town with our first chapter ride of the year now behind us.
With the chilly wet Spring we’ve had, it sure seemed a long time coming!
My Chrome Divas group had made plans to meet at Sambetti’s at 9:30 and roll into the blessing together, so Steve and I headed over and we met up with several of the gals to ride in to Big Barn Harley Davidson here in Des Moines. We arrived at the Barn about 10 am for the 11 am blessing, and there were already quite a few bikes on hand.
We did a little bike browsing and – huge treat! – I finally got to meet a friend I’ve been emailing with for almost a year! Glenda had contact me last year and asked me to add a poker run to my event calendar that her family organizes each year. At the time, I also wrote up a little post about the run to help promote it, because the story behind it really resonated with me.
Through email letters, my new pen pal and I quickly discovered that we share the exact same birthday – month, day and year! – and, have a special love for a particular pattern of vintage dinnerware. Because of all this – plus more things in common AND our shared love of riding, we became fast friends online and now finally have been able to meet in person and ride together! It was very gratifying to get to meet Glenda and her husband Pat!
The bike blessing event was lovely as always – there was live music, a large-group blessing, and then the opportunity to wait by your bike and have a member of the Christian Motorcycle Association say a special individual blessing. We then enjoyed the chili feed put on by ABATE District 4, and finally decided to take off on a short ride.
At this point we were also joined by another new friend, Kelly, whom we had met on a previous visit to the Barn.
Our ride route was simple and the group consisted of myself, Steve, Garry, Shirley, Pat, Glenda and Kelly. We rode north away from the Barn on Highway 415 and turned with 415 to the west, along the north side of Saylorville Lake into Polk City.
We traveled north out of Polk City up to Highway 210, then jogged east into Slater, where we landed at the Night Hawk Bar & Grille – a little place adjacent to a bicycle trail that we had discovered last year while Road Pickling with Sash & Highway.
Spent about an hour just visiting and enjoying our beverages, then everyone headed home or on to their next Saturday activity.
I thoroughly enjoyed this day… although I didn’t take many photos, you can see the ones I did take in my Bike Blessing 2014 album on Facebook.
Seriously, we had snow flurries as recently as Thursday of this past week. That’s APRIL, y’all, and that hardly ever happens in Iowa! (It does happen though… way back in 1973 when yours truly was 10 years old, we had 18 inches of snow in early April. It all melted a few days later, of course, but we still talk about that some 40 years later so really, it was epic.)
Anyway, it has been a longer-than-normal, colder-than-normal, colder-earlier-and-stayed-that-way-longer-than-normal Winter. Not only did we not get our first ride in February, we almost didn’t get it in March either. But finally… FINALLY… we managed to catch suitable temperatures on a weekend – but for the second year in a row our first ride of the season was comparatively late, taking place on Sunday March 30th!
My initial plan was to ride to brunch, then go for some kind of short scenic ride to the south. We knew we were going to have to jump start Steve’s bike, because it’s ten years old with the original battery and we hadn’t used battery tenders over the winter. We soon found out, though, that poor Kitten wouldn’t start either! So, Plan B was: go to brunch, then come home and get both bikes running, then take a short ride to Indianola for ice cream.
After brunch, while Steve pulled out the battery charger and jumper box to start work on the bikes, I grabbed the keys so I could move his seldom-used pickup into the side yard. This was so that we’d have plenty of room to maneuver back into the garage when we came home. But, I quickly discovered that his truck wouldn’t start either!
So first order of business was to get the truck going. Once that happened, I moved it over to the sideyard and let it run so it would be sure to re-start.
Meanwhile, Steve set about removing my bike seat so he could get to my battery. By that time, Howard and Kristin had arrived to go with us – fortunately they are patient and appreciate a good comedy-of-errors, because I swear it took all four of us about 30 minutes of wrestling with the seat before someone had the big idea to read the directions.
Ah, okay, seat off… now back to the directions to figure out how to get the battery cover off… battery now hooked up to the jumper box, and Kitten roared to life. Hello, Kitty! I swear I just about wept with joy.
Moved on to Steve’s bike… same procedure but without having to read the directions… his bike was rumbling within a few minutes, and finally, after all that, off we went!
Now right here I need to confess, in all seriousness, that there was a point in late Winter where I could barely summon the enthusiasm I usually have for the first ride of the season – or anything else for that matter. I entertained the thought that perhaps I didn’t care about riding anymore. I thought about giving it up. I was quite simply depressed.
Fortunately, seeing Kitten gleaming in the driveway was a miracle cure for my lingering sense of indifference. And after a few minutes of cruising down one of my favorite south-bound county roads, R63, I was once again near tears of joy (I’m starting to think I might simply be hormonal…)
I love R63 for its roadside meadows and sweeping curves. But because the meadows are still in un-green shades of dormant, I made those curves my singular focus (aside from looking out for suicidal animals, of course): setting my line, looking out to the end of the curve, trusting my bike to dip into the apex and then righting myself and setting for the next one. It was a joy!
And when we arrived in Indianola, we pulled into the A&W under the awning and I dismounted my bike, eager to pull off my helmet and share my happiness with my friends. As I turned to say something appropriately meaningful (a.k.a., “dorky”), my husband switched off his bike and said, “Did you turn off the truck before we left?”
Well now. That would be a no. No, I did not. Or to put it another way: Yes, we are 30 miles down the road and our pickup truck is idling unattended at home. Hmmm. I offered to call the neighbor, whose last name and phone number might as well be Smith and 7, respectively, because I have no idea what they really are, but assumed I had the resources to find them by accessing certain websites on my handy-dandy smartphone.
The worst part would be reporting it to the insurance company and admitting how suspiciously easy we had made it for the theft to occur on a $900 truck.
Well that kind of burst my happy bubble surrounding the curves of R63, but we did enjoy our ice cream and too soon were headed back toward home – down the same road we’d come in on but cruising past the junction at R63 and traveling a bit further west to its cousin, Highway 28 at Martensdale.
Back up to Des Moines through Martensdale, Prole, and Norwalk, a farewell wave to Howard and Kristin, and finally pulled into the driveway at home to find Steve’s truck still idling in the yard.
So – all’s well that ends well I suppose. Including the Winter That Refused to Die.
This weekend our Chrome Divas chapter celebrated its third season with a ride to the world’s second-most recognized house: the “American Gothic” house, depicted in the background of the iconic painting of that name by Iowa artist Grant Wood.
A lot of people probably don’t realize that the house in the painting was (and is) a real structure, located in the southeast corner of Wapello County about 110 miles from Des Moines. It’s been on my “must-ride” list for several years, ever since Holly mentioned that her Estrogen Ride group stopped there!
Our day began with a meet-up at Sambetti’s in Des Moines (official home of the Chrome Divas)! We departed around 9 am with sunny skies but a temperature that had not yet reached 60 degrees. It was cool, but very comfortable – and not unseasonable, like our last barely-60 ride back in August!
Our fearless ride leader, Janet (aka SevenOver), took us on a very pretty ride down through Runnells, Pleasantville, and the Lake Red Rock area, and across the Mile Bridge over Lake Red Rock where we saw a large flock of pelicans! They were above us in a large group, soaring and swooping overhead, and when we rode past one part of the lake we could see many more of them gathered on a sandbar that had extended out into the lake. We rolled into Pella around 10:30, a small Iowa town famous for its Dutch heritage, dueling bakeries, and of course the annual Tulip Time festival held each May.
You might remember I had a rather negative impression of Ottumwa on my solo ride to Drakesville – well I’m happy to report that this little river town is on its way winning me over. This time we came into town along a lovely residential avenue called Court Street. The houses were so distinctive it was all I could do keep moving and not stop to take pictures!
We encountered a bit of a riding challenge along this street when we rode through an area where a water main had clearly burst and was gushing water across the road. Fortunately it wasn’t very deep up on the crown of the road, but on either side at the curb it was probably 5-6 inches deep and rushing quickly over the surface of the road. We moved at a slow, even pace along the crown and made it through with only wet pant-legs.
Our destination here in Ottumwa was a tiny lunch counter called Canteen Lunch. We parked our bikes on the street in front The Owl’s Nest Tavern, and we found The Canteen right around the corner. Hard to explain the location but it looked like someone tried to fight City Hall over the construction of a parking ramp, and in a compromise they simply kept the Canteen standing but built the parking structure right over the top of it. (Important to keep in mind that the best local food is usually found in places like this!)
The Canteen itself was a building made of cement block about the size of a two-car garage, painted mustard-yellow and with a classic neon sign still hanging off the front. Just inside the door was a U-shaped lunch counter with nearly every seat taken even though it was Saturday (or maybe because it was Saturday!). After a minute or so we managed to get 4 seats on one side, and 2 on the other, so our group split up and we enjoyed wonderful “loose meat” sandwiches – what they used to call “beef burgers” in school, or “Maid Rites” in the Midwest when that restaurant chain was thriving.
Ample food, dirt cheap, great atmosphere! Enjoyed our lunch and accosted a local gal to snap our photo, then took off for Eldon just a few miles to the east.
The American Gothic House is truly an Iowa gem – tucked back in a quiet section of town and not immediately surrounded by other homes or development except for the little museum/shop/learning center right next door. The little house and yard are fronted by a wildflower garden and a paved area suitable for staging photos.
The house itself, including the little-half story on top with the now-famous Gothic-style window, was completed in 1882 by Catherine and Charles Dibble. It’s therefore also lesser-known, but listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as the Dibble House. It was donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1991 by then-owner Carl Smith. The museum and visitor’s center was completed in 2007.
Our visit started with an informational presentation by Mr. Allen Morrison, an Eldon resident and former U.S. Marine who is familiar with the house, the work of Grant Wood, and the story of how the house came to be included as a backdrop in Wood’s famous painting.
We also toured the museum itself, which featured a timeline of Wood’s life, examples of the painting as the image has been used throughout popular culture, and various creative expressions of the two stalwart characters.
We took part in the visitor ritual of dressing up in “American Gothic” costumes and having our photos taken in front of the house.
Mr. Morrison had told us that the current resident of the house, Ms. Beth Howard, was currently traveling and not at home. (Her story is could be the subject of a whole new blog post, but, if you go to Amazon.com and search for the book “Making Piece” by Beth Howard, you’ll get a sense of her life story.)
I asked him if it was permissible to step up into the yard and take closer photographs of the house and he graciously allowed us to do so. He also let us pose on that famous porch, and drive our motorcycles up into the paved circular area so we could get a group photo of bikes and Divas in front of the house!
What was really neat was that he seemed to enjoy having us there as much as we enjoyed being there – a great guy who took a lot of pride in sharing the story of the house and its artist!
We left Eldon the way we had come in, along Highway 16, and stopped to top off gas at a station just south of the junction with Highway 34. Turned out that was a neat little paved road that took us back to the west through the tiny town of Agency and actually ran directly alongside Highway 34 for a stretch until we got back into Ottumwa. Picking up Highway 34, we continued west to Chariton then north along County Road S23 into Lacona.
Another brief stop here to contact our Diva sister Shirley, who had been unable to ride with us but was planning to meet us in Carlisle for ice cream. We continued along S23, which north of Highway 92 is also known as the Palmyra Road because it passes by the town of Palmyra (home of another beautifully historic Gothic structure, the Palmyra Church). Shirley met us at the junction of Highway 5 and rode in with us to Carlisle where we made a final stop for post-ride ice cream.
Interesting also to note once again the changing of seasons here – most of Iowa is in severe drought right now, so a lot of the corn is already completely dried. As for the beans – well they range in condition from still being beautifully lush and green, to being barely brushed in gold, to being completely dried out – sometimes all along the same stretch of road!
Such a strange year, weather-wise, but a great day visiting a truly unique Iowa treasure!