A Blog Along The Lincoln Highway

All of this is about a public TV project about one of America’s great roads, and we’re hoping you might enjoy reading about some of our behind-the-scenes work. I’m Rick Sebak, and I write most of the tales. Bob Lubomski is our cameraman. And Glenn Syska has been traveling with us recently. He made the video blog entries in 2008. Back in 2007, Jarrett Buba did all that. A RIDE ALONG THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY first aired on PBS on October 29, 2008 at 8 PM. Check with your local PBS station to find out about repeat broadcasts. Or go for the DVD at www.shopwqed.org.

A Blog Along The Lincoln Highway header image 2

Already it’s Day 4?

August 24th, 2007 ·

Driving into the SunsetLast night we drove into one astounding sunset. What looked like a tiny red light in the clouds near the horizon eventually expanded to fill the evening sky with bright red and orange light in front of us. After the mighty rainstorm yesterday (see Day 3), the beauty of the sunset was a grand sign. Red sky at night, Lincoln Highway traveler’s delight.

We crossed the Mississippi into Clinton, Iowa, as the last of the colorful sky was fading.

We found rooms at a Country Inn & Suites, searched for a non-chain restaurant, and ended up as the only customers in a Mexican place called La Feria over near the river. Mexican twice in one day. The food was good, the chips fresh and crunchy, the carnitas spicy, the two kinds of mole tasty.

We were tired after a long day.

Now let me try and get the DAYS list in order.
On DAY ONE we departed from WQED in Pittsburgh, stopped to get a few words of advice from Lincoln Highway author and guru Brian Butko (see Is that Willie Nelson..?), then we decided to pay no real attention to the state of Ohio (because we could make short trips there anytime) and hopped on the Ohio Turnpike. We started our old highway journey on an interstate! An interstate with a toll! And we ate lunch at a Turnpike franchisery. This was a reminder of how tedious and bland the big highways can be. So, we didn’t get on any road that was once the Lincoln Highway till we got to Goshen, Indiana.

We spent the night in South Bend, had dinner at a cool little Irish pub called Fiddler’s Hearth (where oddly enough we had stopped once before, when searching for a non-fast-food lunch several years ago when we were en route to Wisconsin while gathering video for A PROGRAM ABOUT UNUSUAL BUILDINGS.)

We stayed in a motel near the Notre Dame campus.

Too soon it was DAY TWO.
David HayThe Lincoln Highway Association has one of its national headquarters in South Bend, and I had called David Hay, the Executive Director of the Lincoln Highway, the only person who is currently employed full-time by the Association, and we stopped to talk to him. He has a good sense of humor, loves the history and potential of the highway, and he knows his stuff. And after the interview outside his building, he agreed to take us for a short ride, and he led us to lunch in one of his favorite vintage eateries, B&J’s American Cafe in LaPorte, Indiana.

Counter at B&J'sIt’s a old-fashioned storefront (“A Family Restaurant Since 1922”) at 607 Lincolnway with cool old counter and stools, a great tile floor, delicious beef noodle soup, wonderful pies (all made there on the premises) and lots of stuff to look at. A worthwhile lunch. We said goodbye to David there, and he was heading back to South Bend.

We were continuing westward. The day was bright and sunny, really hot. We stopped in Dyer, Indiana, to see some of the “Ideal Section” of the Lincoln Highway, a mile-long section of roadway, designed and built in the mid-1920s, that was supposed to serve as a model for how the highway should be built. It’s a busy, heavily developed stretch of Route 30 now, and doesn’t seem “ideal” for much of anything.

The Ideal Section of the Lincoln Highway The Lincoln Highway doesn’t go into Chicago, but sort of scoots through its outer southern suburbs, and we ended up looking for a place to stay the night near Joliet, IL. The Comfort Inn had rooms. We were bushed. We had driven only about 150 miles on Day 2, and we knew we’d have to pick up the pace a bit.

We had dinner there near the intersection of Route 30 and I-55 at a place called Diamands, sort of a big snazzy mega-diner-y sort of place, with lots of Greek specialties on the menu. Not bad.

Plainfield, IllinoisLincoln Highway and Route 66 When we got on the road on DAY 3 (just yesterday morning), we went only a few miles before stopping to get some shots in the town of Plainfield, IL, with a classic set of old shops in its small “downtown” along the Lincoln Highway. It’s also a little town where for a while around 1940, the Lincoln Highway and Route 66 used the same stretch of roadway for about 3 blocks. And Plainfield loves that historic distinction. They have signs and banners celebrating their bit of highway history.

Mayor Jim WaldorfI stopped in the Village Hall and asked Mayor Jim Waldorf to talk to us for a few moments. He was principal of the local high school before he became mayor, and he was in charge at the high school when a deadly tornado swept through this town in August 1990. 29 people in the area died. It was hard to imagine such bad weather on such a beautiful blue-sky-sunny day as this. We stopped in the mayor’s wife’s shop called Gourmet Creations, then paid a quick visit to the Lincoln Way Barbershop that traces its history back to 1881.

On one corner, a local travel agency has moved into a old gas station building, a beautiful vintage Standard Oil gas station that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old gas station in PlainfieldJarrett got out his small video camera, and we made a quick clip for this blog. We could have spent the whole day in Plainfield. (Watch the clip.)

But we drive on, following the excellent signs that have been put up to guide you along the old Lincoln Highway through Illinois.

After lunch in Aurora, we drive into a massive storm (see Day 3). We survive.

By 4:15 or so, we get to Franklin Grove, Illinois, where we know there’s another Lincoln Highway national headquarters with a souvenir stand and such. We have to wait for a long train at the crossing leading into town, and it’s 4:25 or so before we get to the handsome old stone fronted building that has housed the headquarters for several years. It’s closed. The kids sitting outside the Lincoln Way Cafe say that it closes at 4. Drat! So we decide to get some shots, but it starts to rain again, and we may just have to write this off as one of the quirks of unscheduled traveling.

Lynn and her husbandThen a truck pulls up, the driver asks what we’re doing, and he says he’ll go and get Lynn who runs the place. He’s pretty sure she’ll come over and open up for us. She lives only 3 blocks away. What good luck.

The guy came back, says Lynn is giving piano lessons, but her husband will let us in to see the shop. It’s pure small town hospitality, Midwestern good-neighbor behaviour. We’re happy to see inside the carefully restored old building. And Mr. Asp, the husband, says Lynn will be down in 45 when she finishes the piano lesson. We say we’ll wait.

It all works out for the best. We get some T-shirts and souvenirs, magnets and lapel pins, and I get a couple of books, free hand-outs and maps, the kind of Lincoln Highway printed junk I can’t resist.

Lynn with a Lincoln Highway sigeAnd after she finishes her piano teaching, we set up and interview Lynn Asp on the sidewalk in front of the building. Lynn is a volunteer here for the Lincoln Highway Association, and she has tales of unusual visitors, writers, and highway historians from around the world.

I say, “You must get a lot of goofy people just pulling up here.” She smiles and says, “And here you are.”

Tags: Road Diary