Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Ever see one of those fake historical markers that reads: On June 20, 1897 NOTHING happened here?  2018 has been one of the less eventful years, indeed some events that I might have seen I missed.  I can’t even give Shel Silverstein’s excuse of “I Got Stoned and I Missed It.”  Didn’t get to the Elvis Birthday Bash, missed a ceremony at Orange Empire because I wasn’t advised of a time change, never got up to San Francisco to sniff cable car fumes.  Heck, it was quieter than Lake Wobegon.  We do have something to look forward to in the Summer of 2019:  The Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries TV Series, which is set in Melbourne, Australia in 1929 will take to the big screen as a feature film.  Not sure how it will be distributed in the US, but we’re hoping it will get some screen time at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 cinema in Pasadena.  And I do hope to make it to the Elvis tribute in January.  But we don’t have any railway lines opening or any cruises booked, so we’ll continue with our geographical survey of the USA

Bobby Boy “Gotta Travel On” in the USA

In the previous installment of “been there, done that” (and some haven’t made the scene yet) states, we started with Alabama and got to Hawaii before tying down and heading back to the shop for the month.  We’ll resume our wandering with states starting with the letter “I.”  Back in the days when minor league baseball still flourished, there was the “Three-I League,” so called because the teams had home fields in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.  But before we visit those states, one of several states that has a panhandle will be our first stop.  First, some travelin’ music, as Linda Ronstadt celebrates Livin’ in the USA:

Idaho:  Song: “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp.  We first set foot in Idaho during the Sept. 2001 “Western Swing Tour.”  After visiting the Golden Spike Historical Site and the Thiokol Rocket exhibit, we headed northward into Idaho and stayed overnight in Twin Falls.  On our way to Portland Oregon, we visited the state capital of Boise and found a rose garden and a preserved steam locomotive in a local park.  Further up the road we found the Canyon County Historical Museum, located in the old UP railroad station.  Our next visit to the Famous Potatoes state was in 2006, when we attended a “Life on Wheels” educational session.  Since we were planning to buy an RV, we figured it was time to go to school.  This gathering was on the campus of the University of Idaho in Moscow; when I told people we were going to Moscow, some of them thought we had a visit to Russia planned.  No, this excursion would not leave the USA, and we wouldn’t go to the more famous Moscow for another ten years.  After classes were dismissed, we headed south along US 95 and spent the night in Mountain Home, which was rather short on nearby mountains.  From there we went southeastward and then south at Twin Falls toward Nevada, ending our travels in Idaho en route to Ely.

Illinois:  Song “Sweet Home Chicago” by the Blues Brothers.  My first contact with Illinois was during the cross country train trip in 1951; I remember going through Joliet, which would later become famous for scenes in the Blues Brothers movie, and even seeing one of the state prisons on the way into Chicago.  This was back when making connections there usually meant a cab or limo ride from one station to another.  We arrived at the long vanished Dearborn Street Station and transferred to the greatly modified LaSalle Street Station.  One of the sights we saw was an organ grinder with a trained monkey.  I’m sure this form of urban entertainment disappeared a long time ago, and if someone tried to re-enact it, PETA would be on their case very quickly.  It would be over 20 years before I would set foot in Illinois again, this time spending almost a week in the Chicago area.  Highlight was riding the South Shore electric trains-- just a 21 mile trip and you were in Indiana (that’s about the distance from Los Angeles to Azusa).  This also marked my first experience with riding a subway train  Didn’t get to the lower part of Illinois until the Dog Tired Tour of 1977, and that was in the wee small hours.  Finally saw it in daylight when we went back east in the motor home in 2007.  While visiting St. Louis, we stayed at an RV park on the East St. Louis side of the Mississippi River, with a light rail line going back across or further east.  The eastern section has been criticized for going past cornfields rather that dense urban areas, but for me that wasn’t a problem-- it was rather like riding an old interurban line, and at one point the motorman had to slow down to let a deer cross the track.  When we went on to Indiana, we paused to get a photo of the welcome sign for Pocahontas IL, which mentions its best known native, country singer Gretchen Wilson, whom I have in my CD collection.  The one Illinois institution I’ve been to more than any other is the Illinois Railway Museum in Union IL.  It’s one of the world’s largest railway museums, and it’s one of the few that can run steam, diesel and electric powered trains.

Indiana:   Song “Back Home Again in Indiana.”   The Hoosier State was mostly “just passing through” territory for most of my early trips.  The 1971 trip involved taking the South Shore Line to the eastern end in South Bend, but the train travel ended at the edge of town, requiring a taxi to get to the downtown bus station.  Had I wanted to visit the University of Notre Dame, and hang out with the Hostile Hibernians, there was a transit bus waiting to go there, but downtown didn’t rate a connecting bus.  Along with a couple of other passengers, I piled into a Chrysler product cab, which turned out to be driven by a former Studebaker employee.  All the way to the Greyhound station, he told us stories about why Studebaker went “tennis up” in the mid 1960s.  I bought a ticket to Pittsburgh, had a bite to eat, and then waited for the bus.  There was a bit of excitement when a rather worried looking fellow came running in, and went into the men’s restroom.  Shortly thereafter, two South Bend police officers came in, looked around, went into the restroom and came out with the first man in handcuffs.  When the station agent appeared to be closing down, I asked, “Where’s the bus to Cleveland?” “Oh, it just left, but it has to go around the block, so you may be able to catch it.”  So I grabbed my baggage, raced down the street and flagged down the bus.  The driver asked what I was doing, and I asked, “Are you going to Cleveland?”  When he said that he was, I told him that there were two guys from another country back at the station who also want to go there.  So he went back, picked up the foreign visitors and we finally headed east.  Remembering that this was over 40 years ago, as I recall the head sign on the bus read Cincinnati.  Not exactly a gold star day for the Doggy Bus. 

 I finally saw a lot of Indiana on our “Fight Fiercely Tour,” driving back from the Boston area in 1990, in the car that would become Duarte Northern 121.  We followed US 6 (not as famous as 66, but still an official US highway) from Bryan, Ohio to Butler, Indiana, where we paused so I could get photos of a rare old diesel switcher locomotive.  We kept on 6 until we turned north on Indiana Highway 3, stopping to photograph the entire locomotive roster of a local short line (one elderly diesel), and continue on to Mongo, a name familiar to fans of Mel Brooks’ classic film "Blazing Saddles."  After driving up to Sturgis, Michigan for photos and a “set foot” it was time to get serious and take the Indiana Toll Road to Chicagoland.  The middle part of Indiana was not seen in daylight hours until the 2007 RV trip, when we stayed overnight in Cloverdale, and stopped to get photo and mail a letter in Monrovia (which makes Monrovia, California look like a metropolis).  If I were a motor-sports fan, I would have made the pilgrimage to the Brickyard where the Indy 500 race brings attention to this area, but we just circled around Indianapolis and kept going on I-70 to Ohio.  For the 2011 trip, we visited the RV/Motor Home museum in Elkhart-- highly recommended for RV owners and fans of vintage vehicles. 

Iowa:  Song:  "Sioux City Sue."  My first contacts with Iowa involved the southeast corner.  The Santa Fe Railway has a station at Fort Madison, just before crossing the Mississippi River on an old iron bridge.  Paralleling the railroad is one of the main streets in Ft. Madison, which is part of US Highway 61, the southern part of which is known as the Blues Highway where it goes through Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.  Up until the "Fight Fiercely Tour" in 1990, my travel across the main part of Iowa was mostly under cover of darkness on trains and bus.  When I finally got to drive across the state, two of the items on my life list were the Iowa Traction Co., which is the only all electric freight service railway in the US.  It runs on the old Mason City and Clear Lake Railway.  If Clear Lake sounds familiar, you’ll probably see some references to it in February-- the 3rd will be the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) and the pilot.  I have not visited the site, nor have I gone to the Surf Ballroom, where they performed their last show.  The ballroom is still an active music location, and they even have a Winter Dance Party scheduled,  feauturing original artists from the '60s, children of musical stars, and tribute bands.  But my focus that day was on the railway side of life. 

First thing I spotted was the remote control locomotive at the local cement plant, then I took photos of the Iowa Traction electric locomotives, but an inquiry at the carbarn told me that they wouldn’t be running until later that day.  So, no action photos.  Next stop was the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, which operates on a surviving section of the old Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern interurban electric railway line.  Since we were there on a weekday, the train was powered by a diesel switcher (they do have a Chinese-built steam locomotive) and included an assortment of cars.  High point of the trip (literally and figuratively) was the old iron bridge over the Des Moines River.  The highest bridge on any interurban line in the US, it was something I had seen it photos, and now I could ride across it.  Pat was not impressed by this historic structure.  The ironwork was rusty and the wood parts were quite weathered.  Down in the river valley, the water was muddy, and had various things floating in it (but no cows or outhouses).  We had missed some heavy rain storms, and some of the cornfields looked more like rice paddies.  And of course we had to go back across this bridge to get back to our car. But at last report the bridge is still carrying excursion trains so we had nothing to worry about.

Our next visit to Iowa was part of the 2011 RV trip.  We had stayed in a park in Independence, Missouri where President Truman is still held in high esteem.  We went northward into Iowa on I-35, turning eastward at Osceola on US 34.  We took a side trip to Albia, which still has the carbarn and powerhouse buildings that were once used by the local electric railway system, but which have long since been used for non-transport purposes, including the Monroe County Historical Society.  Since Albia is the county seat, it has a splendid old-style courthouse.

Our destination for the day was further east, at an RV park with a name that brings an old blues song to mind-- Crossroads RV Park in Mt. Pleasant (not to be confused with Mt. Prospect, Illinois, source of Bluesmobile).  The next day we visited the Midwest Old Settlers Reunion Center, where old steam engines (both railway and tractor) run on Labor Day weekends and at other times during the year.  An added attraction is the trolley line that runs in a loop from the camping area to the exhibits.  An assortment of restored electric cars run at frequent intervals during the Reunion.  We weren’t there during activities, but I did get to see inside the carbarn.  These cars are open-air trams from Brazil.  Not shown is a car that ran in Albia.  

In a few weeks, the trolleys would be rolling through here:

That’s it for this month— our next section of this travelogue will visit Kansas, mention Kentucky, get jazzed up about Louisiana (or at least New Orleans), go about as far as you can get from the Old Curiosity shop in Maine, and see how much further we wander.

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