|An old Platte River crossing near
I find the relative obscurity of US 6, the forgotten cousin of US 66, rather intriguing. Originally this highway, dubbed the Grand Army of the Republic Highway in New York, connected the tip of Cape Cod with Long Beach in California. In the 1960’s it was truncated at Bishop, California but, surprisingly, most of the remaining road remains intact.
Crossing the Rockies over Loveland Pass (11,990 feet) above the Eisenhower Tunnel, it is one of the highest US highways. A section near the Nevada-Utah line remained unpaved until around 1950. And the course it follows is, to say the very least, odd. Check it out on an atlas or online.
On the most recent trip to the Miles of Possibilities Conference in Bloomington, Illinois we followed Route 66. However, for the return trip we decided to pick up US 34 in Galesburg, Illinois, follow it across Iowa, catch US 6 for the Nebraska crossing, and then weave our way through a corner of Kansas and across the southern section of Colorado over Wolf Creek Pass.
US 34 and US 6 were most interesting. However, it was soon made obvious that they lacked the vibrancy of Route 66.
|Dinner is served in Red Oak, Iowa
There were charming cafes, mom and pop motels that seemed clean and well maintained, abandoned service stations dating to the 1920’s, and even a few old towns that maintained a thriving historic business core with fascinating architecture. Still, something was missing. That spark of enthusiasm and excitement found in travelers and business owners along Route 66 was, for the most part, missing.
I found a number of the small towns in Iowa interesting. However, Red Oak was a standout. Specifically the Red Coach Inn and the Casa de Oro restaurant.
I had selected the Red Coach Inn as the price was relatively reasonable and there was a restaurant with good reviews on site. The motel was better than average in regard to cleanliness, location, comfort, sleep quality, quiet at night, and with a very friendly staff.
However, the restaurant was closed on the day of our arrival. As it turned out, this was a good thing. Had it been open we would have never discovered the Casa de Oro.
The food wasn’t on par with that special kind that is found only in New Mexico restaurants but much to my surprise, it was equal to anything I have found in Arizona. The beer, however, reminded me of Germany – großes Bier. The motel was one block up the street.
Day two of our homeward journey ended in McCook, Nebraska, after a stop at the Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska on US 6. It was a most enjoyable and pleasant drive.
Pioneer Village is located about a dozen miles south of I80 near Kearney. This is one of the most astounding museum complexes in the nation, and, perhaps, one of the most overlooked museums.
The collection of historic buildings relocated to the site, each packed with fascinating collections and displays, and the massive main building filled from floor to ceiling (planes hang from the ceiling) is almost impossible to describe. On the grounds you will find trains, a depot, a barn housing massive century old steam tractors, a furnished log cabin and sod house, a church, another two-story building where you can see entire kitchens, with state of the art appliances, for each decade between 1870 and 1960, tea sets (including one made as a gift for Abraham Lincoln), and a collection of gas pumps. A day can be spent here with ease, and there is something for everyone regardless of age.
That is the good news. The bad news is that it is quite evident that maintenance is being deferred. As an example, the 1870’s carousel was in dire need of paint, and the gazebo roof was almost non existent.
The automotive collection, more than 300 vehicles, consists mostly of what were used cars in the 1950’s, the era when they were acquired and put on display. Many are unrestored, which is rather remarkable in itself.
Nestled in among Cords (two of them) and a beautiful, ornate horse drawn hearse are a plethora of cars dating to 1905, farm equipment, electric cars, and lit glass cases filled with everything from pocket watches to slot machines. In other rooms you will find a WWII German cutaway jet engine display, a B-17 radial engine, a 120 year old fire truck, boats, a display of outboard motors spanning a century, guns, an ornate wooden 1830’s horse drawn trolley, and original Currier and Ives prints as well as original Native American art work from the 1870’s.
You will find displays of snowmobiles and phonographs, music boxes and cameras, china dolls and promotional signs. It overwhelms the senses. It is nothing short of amazing.
There is a motel and restaurant on site. As we didn’t make use of the facilities I defer you to Yelp or TripAdvisor.
What I can suggest is that you add this you list of “must see” attractions and sites. You won’t be disappointed.
In the last post I shared the story of our somewhat bizarre lodging adventure in Park City, Kentucky. Today, I will tell the tale of a more successful quest for vintage lodging, and a few stories from the recent adventure on the back roads of America.
The Grand Victorian Inn, and a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park the next day, was planned as a surprise for my dearest friend. So, needless to say, I was frustrated, disappointed, and perplexed about the hotels closure as we set off in search of lodging for the evening.
Flexibility and being able to see plans that go down in flames as opportunity for new adventures is an integral component in ensuring a trip is memorable. In the search for a hotel or motel, and a restaurant, I pressed into service the wonders of the modern era by using the phone to call upon TripAdvisor and Yelp, and our Garmin.
Super 8 was the closest motel but a notation indicated permanent closure. The next option, about ten miles away had received consistently terrible ratings. So, that left the hotel in the park itself, not something I was eager to do because these properties are not usually listed in the budget lodging category.
|Sunrise walkabout at Mammoth
Cave National Park
After getting lost on some Kentucky back roads, and dodging deer that seemed intent on suicide, we arrived at the Mammoth Cave park complex well after dark. In fact, it was only forty minutes before the restaurant closed so we checked in and sat down for a rather interesting dinner.
The food was good if a bit overpriced. The staff was friendly and professional but they were hopelessly overwhelmed. Two waitresses for a full restaurant did not bode well but it was our only option.
I ordered a beer, and my dearest friend a glass of wine. Three attempts latter, and being informed three times they were out of the brand requested, I was sipping on a bottle of Bud thirty minutes after sitting down.
The motel is quite dated. Still, it was clean and well maintained, and the setting was superb. After a restful nights rest I set out on the morning walkabout on the forest trails at the motel and before realizing it, had covered several miles. Breakfast at the restaurant was pretty much a repeat of the night before.
We followed the old two lane highways as much as possible, crossed the Ohio River into Indiana, and turned west. The destination for the evening was Maeystown in Illinois south of East St. Louis.
Maeystown was a most pleasant discovery. Marooned on a series of farm roads (it was only nine miles from the modern era that has engulfed Waterloo) this charming little village seems suspended in another time.
The turn off to Maeystown was well marked, and after a short drive on a narrow road that twisted down a small hill, we rolled into town after crossing a beautiful little stone bridge built in the 1850’s. A hulking mill built of stone in the same period, and some charming old houses lined the road into the “business district.”
As I latter learned, about 30 years ago this charming village was on the cusp of becoming a ghost town. Then it was “discovered” and one by the old buildings were purchased and refurbished. ounded by German immigrants, German was the primary language in town well into the early 1940’s. Stone and brick seemed to have been the building material of choice, especially for the commercial buildings.
|Corner George Inn
Among these early pioneers were David and Marcia Braswell. Fittingly, David is a German teacher.
Their labor of love was to restore the inn and store that dated to the 1880’s, and the home next door built of locally quarried stone in the 19th century.
Operated as a hotel until 1904 (the store was in business until 1950) the property retained a surprising number of original features, including some windows, when the Braswell’s acquired it in the summer of 1988.
They have done an amazing job. The store looks as though it had just closed for the evening – in 1910.
The inn itself was truly a time capsule. From wall paper to furnishings, and the lack of a television, made it easy to imagine that it was 1920, 1900, or even 1890. As an example, in the hall, on a small oak table under a vintage lamp, a century old book rested under a pair of wire rimmed glasses as though the owner had stepped into the kitchen for a cup of tea.
At every turn little touches reflected the owners love for the property, an evident belief that they were merely stewards of something very special, and a passion for providing guests with a most memorable evening.
|J Fires in Waterloo
We immediately fell in love with the charming Corner George Inn, and with Maeystown. I had but one complaint. However, this also proved to be another opportunity for adventure and discovery.
On the evening of arrival, the tavern and restaurant in town were both closed. So upon David’s recommendation we drove into Waterloo, and had a wonderful dinner of grilled herb chicken at J. Fires Market Bistro housed in a former stage station and inn.
During dinner lightening began to flash, and in the distance we heard the rumble of thunder. As we began the drive back to Maeystown, it began to rain. Then it began to pour and for the rest of the night the most intense electrical storm I have ever encountered raged.
It was not a very restful evening, but not because of room quality. The bed was comfortable, our room warm, and if it wasn’t for the storm, there is little doubt that we would have had a wonderful sleep.
The next day I started with a brisk morning walkabout, and a superb breakfast served by the Braswell’s in the upstairs ball room. Traditional German foods, fresh fruit, and delightful conversation made for an excellent start to a new day.
If you find yourself in the St. Louis area, and are looking for a quiet little oasis where you can simply slow the pace, and rest, I suggest that you consider Maeystown. And if you decide to stay the night try the Corner George Inn, and give our regards to the Braswell’s.
The hope is that by this weekend we will have the house restored to its natural state of chaos. I am not sure that this is possible as there are still piles of receipts to sort, all manner of brochures to organize and file, photographs to organize, correspondence to answer, and a desk top to uncover.
I generally operate from a simplistic system; a pile for everything and everything in its proper pile. My concern is that if the items collected on the recent trip are not filed in the proper piles, they will be mixed with items from the pending trip to the 90th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles, and that just wouldn’t do as it would jeopardize the integrity of the entire system. Such are the pressures of life.
We returned home late last Thursday, and my first meeting was scheduled for 6:30 A.M. the following morning. That pattern has continued unabated since our return.
|Pioneer Village on US 6 in Minden, Nebraska
This afternoon, however, I took a deep breath after a slate of meetings and reflected on the recent trip, the discoveries made, the people met, and how things have changed since my first memorable trip west in 1964.
The overwhelming percentage of our odysseys in recent years have centered on Route 66. This year we deviated a bit as there was a need to expand on my network for the distribution of promotional materials.
So, on our way to the 2nd Annual Miles of Possibilities Conference in Bloomington, Illinois, we made a slight detour into the wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky back country after leaving St. Louis, and on the way home, we rolled through Iowa, Nebraska, a bit of Kansas, and then Colorado.
As a result, I was able to make a comparative study about the health of the two-lane highway. My conclusion is that the vitality of Route 66 is very unique.
In Kentucky and Tennessee, at least in the sections that we covered, things have changed rather dramatically since traveling this scenic country during trips to see family in north Alabama and Chattanooga back in the 1960’s. The little crossroads stores are gone, replaced by quick marts and service stations. In most rural small towns, the generic restaurants and fast food chains have swept away the mom and pop cafe.
Surprisingly, however, I did see a number of small, older motels that seemed clean and well maintained. I was also pleased to find a few of the older hotels had been renovated as a bed and breakfast. That takes me to an interesting story, one that I promised to tell during one of the morning walkabout videos that I post on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page.
As we had a couple of days to spare between presentations at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis and the conference in Bloomington, and as the trip had been quite tiring resulting of meetings, appearances, deadlines, schedules to keep, and presentations, I had decided to surprise my dearest friend with a couple of nights at quiet, quaint out of the way places.
One of these was the Grand Victorian Inn in Park City, Kentucky. The reviews were mostly positive, and a restaurant was on site. So, I made reservations.
We encountered the first problem at the railroad crossing in front of the grand old hotel; it was now for pedestrians only. After a bit of evaluation I found a crossing a half mile down the road, as it turned out this was a part of the old Dixie Highway.
I arrived at the hotel around five, and found it and the restaurant closed. After walking all around the property and finding no one, I made a call – no answer.
We discussed options and decided that as the sun was seeking in the west, we should seek lodging somewhere else. However, as options were a bit limited in the small town, I tried calling again and suddenly realized that the crossing of the tracks had transported us to Mayberry or Hooterville.
The owner answered, and apologized. They then explained that something had come up, that they planned on being back in a few hours, and that the key for the front door to the hotel, and our room, number six, was in a coffee can at the front door. A note had been left as we were the only guest for the evening but apparently it had blown away.
For obvious reasons we felt, for lack of better word, weird as we opened the front door and stepped into a time capsule circa 1890. A light was on in the lobby, and at the top of the stairs, and our room was freshly made ready for occupancy.
On further inspection we noticed some rather interesting things. The mantle was freshly dusted but a 1920’s era floor lamp had cobwebs in the shade, as did the ceiling fixtures. The colorful carpet runner on the second floor was clean but worn, but a layer of dust covered the floor and only our room entrance had foot prints.
With the exception of the lobby and the upper landing where our room was located, everything was in shadows or darkness. It was so deathly quiet that we could hear the tick of the old mantle clock on the first floor.
After inspecting our room, I initiated a search for a restaurant. The fact that the nearest open restaurant was twenty miles away, and the emptiness of the hotel itself, led to the conclusion that we should make other arrangements for the evening.
So, we locked the hotel and returned the keys to the can. I left a note that we had decided to make other arrangements for the evening. As of today, I have received neither a phone call or email from the owner.
The next evening we tried a bed and breakfast in charming Maeystown, Illinois. That was a most delightful experience in spite of a raging storm. That however, is a story for another day.