It’s overcast this morning here in Columbus, Nebraska.
Never been here before, but we drove across the Missouri River on Route 6 from Council Bluffs, Iowa, into Omaha late yesterday afternoon. Drove past the University (where Bob yelled “Go Penn State!” out the window), zipped right past Boys’ Town, and got lost in suburbia trying to find an old brick section of the Lincoln Highway just to the north of Route 6. Eventually we got back on Route 30 near Fremont, and headed west.
We stopped at this Holiday Inn Express as we drove into the big-box-store section of Columbus. It was about 8:30 pm, and we’ve learned that we’ve got to stop driving around that time if we want to find a room, get some dinner at a non-fast-food and non-chain restaurant that’s still serving, and just unwind a bit. We considered pushing on to Grand Island, and I think Jarrett would have driven on till midnight if possible. But we stopped.
All the stuff you read about Nebraska seems to emphasize how big it is and how long it takes to cross it. We are scared because we found so many interesting things in Iowa, and we’d probably still be there if we hadn’t forced ourselves to keep moving. We want to get to San Francisco (or close to it) by Thursday night so we have 5 days to zip back across the country, mostly if not entirely on interstates. We figure we’ll have to drive about 600 miles a day to do that. No time for slowing down and enjoying all the sites in small towns.
But yesterday we were on Route 30 for much of the day, and it was excellent, never crowded and it was a magnificent day. We were alone much of the time on the highway. And I realized that we had to thank the interstates for that. Most of the traffic that used to clog this sort of highway is now out on the big limited access interstates, and we were able to enjoy the occasional town, the rare red light, the stores and funeral parlors, the silos and grain elevators, the houses, yard sales and people of the American midwest.
We never feel bored.
We see a lot of corn. But some of the fields are other crops and we’re never sure what the other stuff is. I wish farmers put out signs saying SOY BEANS or POTATOES or whatever. Handmade signs would be great.
We had bright clear blue skies till lunch. We had lunch in a little bar and grill called the Clubhouse on a corner in downtown Carroll, Iowa. Basic food, nothing great. I ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich (an Iowa classic) instead of the daily special, some sort of embellished hamburger. Always order the special.
Before lunch we had stopped for a few shots in Boone, Iowa, where there’s a concrete Lincoln Highway marker at the corner of State Street and Mamie Eisenhower Avenue. Mamie was born here in Boone, and we think we saw her house, but we stopped at the Courthouse to shoot the marker, and Jarrett and I shot a quick video postcard there.
Bob (who’s 6 foot 5) noticed that the Mamie street sign was really low. He almost bonked his head.
After lunch we drove on down Route 30. While we were eating, the clouds came out. Now, there were hundreds, thousands of puffy white cumulous clouds all over the deep blue sky. And when the terrain is so flat, the sky seems huge.
I read Butko’s book as we travel, trying to decide which detours might be worthwhile. His words about Woodbine, Iowa, made it sound as though we should stop. Woodbine still has a nice chunk of the original Lincoln Highway running through the town (locals call it “Lincoln Way”) and it’s still paved with the original bricks. It’s a handsome piece of the highway, and the bricks continue into the downtown part of Woodbine. It was empty but beautiful in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Bob and Jarrett set up the camera and tripod in the middle of the street to get a beautiful shot.
When we parked there in downtown, the Hallmark store directly in front of the van had big GOING OUT OF BUSINESS signs in all the windows. I walked in, had a nice talk with the woman who owned the place. She’d been there 12 years but couldn’t keep it going. She laughed and asked if I might want to buy the hundred year-old candy case there at the front of the store. And when I explained what we were doing, she said I shouldn’t waste my time there at her store. “Get over to the Brick Street Station before they close,” she said. “It’s in the old gas station one block down. You’ll see it.”
It was closed, but it looked interesting, and it had some road signs and Lincoln Highway stuff decorating the outside, so Bob said he’d grab a few shots. I needed to see a man about a dog, so I walked across the street to the jiffy mart there. When I got back, Bob and Jarrett were talking to a distinguished looking guy on a bicycle. He was the owner of the Brick Street Station, and he agreed that we could try a little interview. The bicycle was a great touch. We started, and as always I asked him his name.
“Marshall Scichilone,” he said.
“Are you a Woodbine native?” I asked.
“No, but my wife is,” he told us. “I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
What? We laughed. We’re always encountering displaced Pittsburghers. A Sharpsburg boy, he went to school here in Iowa, met his wife and stayed. He teaches science in local schools, and he was the Woodbine football coach for many years. A good guy.
Before long, his wife Rita showed up too. Someone in the local grocery store had told her that her husband was being interviewed by a TV crew up in front of their station, and she had to come and see what was happening.
Marshall and Rita have a very cute little coffee shop and sandwich place, and they even have a window where you can pull your car in under the canopy of the old gas station and get some grub. I told them we would try to stop again as we were passing by on our return trip if it was at a busier time of the day. It seemed pointless to shoot inside the Brick Street Station when no one was there.
And they told us the Brick Street station is most renowned for the pies that Rita’s sister makes. Homemade pies of all sorts. Another great reason to try and get back.