We have not yet driven down Route 66 having diverted to Columbus but we are now on our way towards the fabled road via distractions in Arthur and Springfield in Illinois and Hannibal in Missouri. For us, allowing ourselves to be distracted is an essential part of being on the road because we hate to bypass something interesting.
Arthur says that it is the largest Amish community in Illinois. Having seen a number of TV programmes in the UK about the Amish, our hope is to learn a bit more about them.
On the way to Arthur we are driving along the back roads and pass through a number of faded towns representing old time America. Oakland is one such town which is now very much less of a town than it was a few years ago.
This is shown in the Town square which looked like a run
down version of that which we had seen on the Warner Studio lot when we first arrived in LA.
Never-the-less, the houses there were very bijoux
and this one is an original log house still with mud caulking between the tree logs.
The town policeman drove past us three times within 15 minutes pointedly ensuring that we knew of his presence, something which one hears about in films but does not expect to experience.
Arthur – home to the Amish
The Amish live a few miles all around Arthur and hence we do not see the first of a number of traditional horse drawn buggies until we were quite close to the town.
It is considered impolite and intrusive to take
pictures of the Amish themselves
so we have plenty of horses pulling buggies
and an example of how far they will go to use technology to
assist in bringing in the harvest but still remain true to their principles. So here we have four carthorses pulling a trailer upon which is an engine which is powering a bailer and it feeds the bales of hay to another trailer where they are stacked by hand. Elsewhere in the field was a spare trailer ready to replace the one above when it became full and two horses ready to pull the trailer back to the farm where it was unloaded by hand and the bales stacked.
The horse driven nature of the area is further evidenced at the cemetery where there are longs lines of hitching chains between posts for tying the horses pulling the buggies used by those attending a burial.
We went on a self driven mp3 narrated tour around the area (we plug a gizmo into a socket in the van and our radio played a broadcast telling us about the area and where we were to go) and visited some Amish stores and drove past their farms.
We also went to a rather disappointing Amish supper – we had imagined that going would enable us to meet a family and learn about Amish life and beliefs from them but the reality was like going to a restaurant in someone’s home. We arrived, we were sat down, given food and expected to leave when we had eaten. There was no chance of any interaction between us and the host family, the only talking that went on was between the “English” dinner guests (to the Amish, anyone who is not Amish is called “English”). It was purely a business transaction - a way for the Amish family whose house we ate at to make an income from tourists. Of course there is nothing wrong with that but it did seem to be a lost opportunity for us to be educated.
The town motto of Arthur is “you leave as a friend” and Arthur is the only place in the US we have been to where other drivers acknowledge you with a wave as you are driving around, if you are parked by the side of the road looking at a map, other drivers stop to ask if they can help etc.
The main crops in the area (and it seems in much of the mid west) are Sweet Corn and Soya Beans. They obviously use GM crops here because every plant is exactly the same height and shape as its neighbour. Looking across the top of a field is like looking over a billiard table, it is that smooth.
It is also the tidiest and neatest place we have visited. The houses are perfectly kept, everything is tidy and even the grass along the field edges is kept neatly cut.
One thing we have noticed many times all over the country over the past few weeks are large barns in a terrible state of repair which are just about still standing and obviously unused.
The state capital is Springfield and it, like every other state capital we have seen, has a large replica of the capital buildings in Washington – a large dramatically formal building with an enormous dome. Normally we take little notice of the capitals because parking an RV can be very hard but Springfield is where Abraham Lincoln started his political career and hence there is a lot to see related to the man who started America on its path to effective racial equality.
The National Parks Service manage a four block segment of town within which not only is the house that Abraham Lincoln purchased for $1500 after is marriage but also are a number of other houses from the period.
The area has been maintained by the NPS in the style of
the mid 1800s and of course, they provide Ranger Led Activities to
their usual high standard including a guided tour of the area which told us about the people who lived in the houses at the time of Lincoln, their lives and hardships. This is the only time we have ever seen a Ranger not wearing their traditional uniform with the large Cavalry hat and this guide was extremely good at taking us back to the time of Lincoln and the life in the area. She also explained how dresses such as hers maintained
their shape with hoops and how many layers of clothes she had on (too many for the high temperatures we were experiencing).
The two other activities on offer were a very good film about the early life of Lincoln and his path to the Presidency (which we saw twice) and a tour of his house.
which has been as perfectly restored as money will enable.
That the house is still the same as it was in his time is attested to by this photograph of a political rally at this house in the mid 1800s. In the street outside is a copy of a symbol used in his campaign which was intended to signify that he was a man of the people with humble origins – he had been born and brought up in a log cabin
namely a log cabin on wheels. The NPS have set up
and old camera through which you see what they describe as the most photographed scene in Springfield – above it what that is, namely the corner of his house. I suspect however that the true most photographed scene includes the whole house rather than just a corner of it.
As you climb the steps into his house,
you see his original name plate on the door.
Going into the house feels something special
and inside of the door is the Hall set out as he would have known it complete with Stovepipe Hat and Walking Cane and to the right is the stairs – the handrail is the original and we were all told to make sure that we touched it so that we could say we had touched something he touched.
Although the rooms have been restored to portray as they are likely to have been when he lived in the house, very few of the artefacts are those owned by him and his family since most things were sold after his death. In the above, the stand on the right was his
as was the horse hair sofa.
We were surprised at how small the dining room was but we were told that he did not do a lot of entertaining and had only one house keeper to assist in the running of the house.
His children were known to have played with a stereoscope (on the table)
but only the desk and the mirror above it were owned by him.
Having gone upstairs making sure that we touched the handrail all of the way up, Mrs Lincoln’s bedroom is as she would have had it with her chest of drawers and rocking chair
plus a commode
and in his bedroom (they had separate but adjacent bedrooms as an indication of wealth and status) is his writing desk and the wallpaper is a perfect reproduction of the original (we saw a sample of the original found when the house was renovated in the museum later on).
In the kitchen, only the stove is original.
The NPS Ranger Guide was keen to ensure that we understood his role in the history of America and that we realised that his achievement of “being born poor in a log cabin yet becoming President” was something which any American could also achieve.
Around the corner is the Lincoln Museum which is devoted to his life. Photographs are not allowed inside (because they want you to buy postcards of the exhibits)
but before I was told not to take photographs, I got one of a replica of the inside of his cabin
and we were able to pose with him and his family for a group photograph. As museums go, this is very good in that the quality of the exhibits were superb and very inventive such as the four presidential candidates campaigns of his election being turned into a modern TV analysis and the film about his life and the issues he faced being three screen multimedia with superb sound effects. We learnt a lot about him, the issues related to the abolition of slavery and the civil war which followed.
We were very impressed by him and what he achieved and saddened by the strife which America went through as it resolved the issues related to the abolition of slavery. We came away significantly educated.
Springfield has one of the best examples of the architecture and design of Frank-Lloyd Wright in the Dana-Thomas House which was built in the early 1900s.
For reasons which we did not understand, you are not allowed to take any pictures inside the house but we were given a very good and long tour and most of my numerous questions about design and building techniques were answered. It is a lovely and impressive house and its design and style seemed to be very advanced for its date.
Route 66 Briefly
Route 66 as it was known does not exist as a single entity anymore, parts of it have been dug up, parts replaced by Interstates and there are duplicated sections elsewhere depending on the date you are considering.
In Chatham just south of Springfield, is a small section of the original road
which we are sleeping adjacent to for one night. Running next to it is the Interstate which has replaced it. Quite why standing on the original road is important is something which few people (including us) understand but we did it.
About 100 miles west of the 66 and astride the Mississippi is the town of Hannibal which would be famous for nothing had it not been that it was the birthplace of Samuel Langhorne Clemens who wrote as Mark Twain.
The Mark Twain name is used for all it is worth including:
the Mark Twain Family Restaurant
the Mark Twain Dinette (complete with revolving coffee mug)
the regular appearance of America’s official Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher
and the Hotel Mark Twain.
The Riverboat gets its chance as well and there are many more including the Mark Twain Casino which we passed as we were driving away.
Much of the town is preserved in a time warp specifically to make it a tourist attraction and hence a lot of the buildings are easily recognisable as what they would have been a 100 years ago. These four are typical examples of the many which have been preserved.
Turning to Mark Twain and to Tom Sawyer and others, there is a very well organised set of Mark Twain related buildings stuffed full of related artefacts. When one considers that he left town quite young and did all of his writing elsewhere, they have done well to create such a popular tourist attraction.
On offer were:
One of the houses Samuel Langhorne Clemens grew up in and a photograph of him revisiting the house during one of his return visits to the town;
the White Fence which featured in one of the books when Tom Sawyer persuaded other members of his gang to pay him for the privilege of white washing it;
the house which Becky Thatcher lived in;
a reconstruction of the original house within which
Huckleberry Finn lived;
The Justice of the Peace’s Office where his father worked (somewhat unsuccessfully) as a JP
and Grant’s Drug Store within which the family lived for a short while complete with tableau at the rear depicting an event in a book where Tom Sawyer awakes and finds a dead man on the floor of the office he is sleeping in.
The Interpretive Centre has a very good account of his life and details of his house in Hertford Connecticut which we saw a few years ago.
There are also a number of personal things including originals of manuscripts
and in a museum in the centre of town are the original Norman Rockwell paintings used to illustrate his books.
Cruising on the Mississippi
We went on a cruise (well it lasted at least an hour) on an old ship (built in 1986) which called itself a paddle steamer (although it was diesel powered).
If you are next to the Mississippi at the place where Tom Sawyer had his adventures then you can hardly ignore the river.
It is big and wide and deep and even deeper when it floods (apparently 20 ft deeper than it was when we were there).
A boat called the “Mark Twain” complete with a wonderful whistle organ which played the most wonderful tunes, takes tourists onto the river to see a few Tom Sawyer sites such as the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse on top of Cardiff Hill which in the books was a favourite play area of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and their gang
(it is the small white structure towards the top left of the photograph above),
and “Jacksons Island” which featured in Tom Sawyer. It is infested with mosquitoes and is under flood water during the spring
but none of that stopped these two travellers taking time out to be “tourists” and enjoy being on the river near the island.
The 100+ truck train
The sound of the two tone train horn (whistle?) is one of the classic sounds which most people who have been here associate with America. Freight has taken over the railways here because of the long distances between towns (people inevitably fly). It is not unusual to see trains of more than 100 freight cars, all of which are very large and long being pulled by three or four massive engines. The train is sounding is horn almost constantly because of the numerous level crossings.
I have been trying to record one of these for a long time and finally managed it in Hannibal when a mixed freight train passed through the centre of town as we were awaiting boarding the boat described above.
And so, (for Grandson Corran) here is a video of the complete train together with sounds of its horns, the level crossing bells and rather incongruously in the background, that of the pipe organ on the nearby boat we were about to board.
Back to Route 66
When we get back to St Louis some 120 miles south, we met Route 66 again
and with gluttonous intent, called in at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard emporium on the old 66.
It is very popular and even though it was raining fairly hard
when we were there, people were quite willing to stand in the rain to place their orders.
It is hard to describe exactly what it Frozen Custard is, it is not custard as the British know it, it is softer than Ice Cream and far thicker than a “ Mr Whippy”, it is not a yogurt but whatever it is, it is delicious and comes in more flavours than reasonable and in large portions. We had the second smallest size and that was more than sufficient. The largest size is a 20 oz which seems to match the size of the people eating it.
Did we enjoy it?
Yes says Pat on behalf of us both. And then we head south west down Route 66 again (until we divert off it of course to see something interesting).