So today, we finally devote a day to talking and riding with Brian Butko, the author of Greetings From The Lincoln Highway and The Lincoln Highway: Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide, as well as assorted other books. He’s an old friend of mine, and he was the first person who ever made me aware of the Lincoln Highway. That was back in the summer of 1992 when I was shooting a statewide look at roadside attractions called The Pennsylvania Road Show (out of print for years but coming back soon in a DVD Special Edition with extras!)
He and I had talked last week about where we should do the interview, and Brian suggested Peppi’s Diner in Wilkinsburg, the vintage stainless steel structure that has been Charlie’s Diner and Scotty’s Diner in years gone by, but it’s been a Peppi’s sandwich shop for several years now. I thought it was an inspired choice, called and asked for permission to shoot there, talked to Lou at Peppi’s Downtown, and he was happy to let us invade for an hour or so.
(I actually like Peppi’s sandwiches very much – great bread, juicy meat, lots of tasty toppings – and in recent years they’ve received some attention for their Roethlisberger sandwich, named for the Steelers’ very popular quarterback. And I love that sandwich. Loosemeat, sausage, egg, cheese, onions, all slammed together in a big hoagie bun. Pretty scrumptious. They weren’t making this sandwich back when we did our Sandwiches That You Will Like program for PBS, or I probably would have included it in the show.)
Bob and Glenn and I meet Brian at the diner, set up a light in the one end of the place, and we monopolize that space for a good hour and a half. Brian knows too much about the Lincoln Highway. We talk about the road in Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania and coast-to-coast. I’ve interviewed Brian two or three times before, but I think he is his best ever today. Maybe we’ve just known each other long enough (although sometimes that makes an interview more difficult) or maybe he is just more relaxed. He says lots of stuff I want to have in the program.
He also comments on how nicely Peppi’s have kept up the diner. The stools, the counter, the tiles, the rest rooms at the one end with the dark wooden door. . It’s a National brand diner, and Brian says they’re really rare. He knows too much about diners too.
Of course, we stay there and eat lunch. Jim and the staff treat us like kings. Big thanks to them. Brian gets a portabella hoagie, Bob and Glenn get the chicken and mushroom sandwich, but I have to get a Roethlisberger. Oh so huge and scrumptious. We split some fries too. I’m ready for a nap.
But we want to visit at least a few of the places that Brian has mentioned: the Lincoln statue in Wilkinsburg is top of our list. It was erected in 1918, paid for with pennies collected by local children, and it stands on the triangle of land where the old William Penn Highway meets the old Lincoln Highway, and then the two roads continue on together as Penn Avenue into Pittsburgh. We try several different set ups. Brian is taking pictures too because he’s putting together a new Lincoln Highway book, and he has the Lincoln Highway News blog, so he keeps snapping away, and Bob gets shots of Brian taking pictures.
We also drive across town, heading out the Ohio River Boulevard, sort of following the general direction of the original 1913 Lincoln Highway, but a block or two away from the actual original streets. We want to get to the odd little community called Glenfield, right where the huge bridge carries Interstate 79 over the Ohio River. It’s hard to find your way in to Glenfield (you have to take a viaduct over the train tracks, and the arrangement of signs and ramps is intimidating) and then there’s really only one street left in the odd collection of houses between the railroad tracks and the river. That one street is made of yellow bricks, and it’s old and bumpy and wavy, and you would be a fool to dive it faster than 15 or 20 miles an hour. It used to be the Lincoln Highway. A lost old segment in Glenfield.
The day goes way too fast. I have to be at Kennywood Park by 5 PM for an interview on WORD radio, and Brian lives in West Mifflin, where the amusement park is located, so I bum a ride with him. Even as we zip back into town, Brian takes an unexpected detour in Avalon and shows me another twisty old segment of the highway that goes across an old Allegheny County Bridge from 1896. I’m always learning when I’m with Brian.