Chapter 6 : Illinois and Iowa

The original version of this article was published in The Legend-News of 2000 June 26. Slight changes have been made, but nothing that affects the facts.

Greetings from the Space Cadet. Today is Wednesday, 2000 June 14.

I think that I’ve almost recovered from my journey, but don’t bet on it. I arrived home at 04:30 Central Daylight Time on Monday, having been traveling since 11:00 Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday. I got about 5 hours’ sleep, then somehow managed to stay awake until 10 that night, when I fairly collapsed into bed and spent 8 hours having nightmares about driving. No, I’m not kidding about that. I don’t recall the details, but when I went to work on Tuesday I spent most of the day trying to stay upright. But today is Wednesday, and I feel alive again.

I Begin My Journey: Monday, 2000 May 29

Anyway, my trip started at about a quarter after 07:00 CDT on the morning of Monday, May 29, when I pulled out of the driveway, headed west, then turned south on Illinois 47 to Sugar Grove. Then I was going to head west on Old 30, and somewhere along that road between here and Audubon, Iowa, Skywalker (a.k.a. “Alan Chafin”) would join up with me. By the way, I’m Silversmith, and yes, I will explain that name a bit later.

As Robbie Burns said it, “The best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” which is almost a summary of the past two weeks. Although I was beginning my trip in McHenry, Illinois, Skywalker had started out from Baltimore, Maryland on the previous day, and he got a late start on Monday: I was already in eastern Iowa by the time that he started his trip out of Bloomington, Illinois. He was probably about two hours or so behind me at that time, a fact that I learned when I called back home to check on his whereabouts: we had arranged that my wife, Lisa, would relay messages between us via telephone until we met. Every couple of hours I called Lisa, and she told me the last location in which Skywalker had reported himself.

The trip across the middle of Illinois and most of Iowa was uneventful, although I did stop at a few historical markers along the way. I now know that one of the first three soldiers who were killed in World War I was an Iowan, and I found — for the second time — a little red brick schoolhouse just northwest of Lisbon, Iowa on the side of the old Lincoln Highway roadbed.

About 17:00 CDT I again checked with Lisa, and was told that Skywalker was still somewhere behind me and he said that I should just continue to Audubon where he’d meet me. So I tooled on west on U.S. 30, turned left on U.S. 71, and followed the detour signs down to the birthplace of William D. Fries, Jr.

Meeting of the Minds

I was sitting on Broadway, in beautiful downtown Audubon, listening to channel 13 and hoping to hear a hail from Skywalker, when about 19:30 I hear a cry: “Silversmith, this is Skywalker. You got your ears on?” Well, I tried calling back but the situation seemed to be that I could hear much better than Skywalker could receive. He was obviously within a couple of miles of town, but he didn’t hear me. But after a few minutes of trying we finally connected, and I drove a bit south of downtown to find him parked outside the local volunteer fire department. At approximately 19:45 CDT on the 29th of June, we finally met. Fortunately, we didn’t kill each other on sight. :)

I pulled into the driveway of the fire station and parked next to Skywalker’s car, a 1993 Geo Metro, black and oily. The black was its natural color, but the oil was the unintended result of an oil filler cap that hadn’t been replaced after adding a quart. Nevertheless, the vehicle had made the journey without incident. (Those of you who like foreshadowing, add the words “…so far” after the previous sentence.)

Alan showed me his laptop computer with its mapping software and attached Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, which had allowed him to accurately track his route from Baltimore to Audubon and would perform the same function for the remainer of our trip. We discussed what to do next and decided that although the sun was setting, we still had time to take a few outdoor pictures. We drove south of town to the local highway department yard. On the west side of the road, facing south, was a large white sign in the shape of the state of Iowa with the word AUDUBON across the middle, and a black star near the lower left corner that indicated the relative position of the town. We decided to pose in front of the sign while holding the “Convoy 2000” banner.

T A brought out his digital camera, a Sony Mavica, and looked for a place to set it. He didn’t have a tripod, and the sign was about sixty feet away from the best place on which to position the camera, a wooden post of the fence that surrounded the maintenance yard. He propped up the camera on the post, using a piece of cloth to elevate the lens. That’s when we discovered the first problem with these fancy digital cameras. Although it recorded pictures onto a 1.44 MB disk, the damned thing had a timer that could be set for only ten seconds! So while I stood near the sign, holding the banner, Alan had to set the timer and then run the sixty feet uphill to stand beside me, all in less than ten seconds.

He made several attempts to get the picture, but success wasn’t obvious. If he made it into position in time, then the camera failed to take the picture. If the camera did take a picture, then he wasn’t in position. Argh.

Officer Friendly

While we were attempting this usually quick and easy action of photography, an Audubon police car passed by going south on the highway. A few hundred feet south of the sign he U-turned and headed back north, pulling into the driveway beside our cars. Alan was standing down by the camera when Officer Beane walked over and inquired “What are you doing here?”.

We told him about C.W. McCall, that Audubon was the birthplace of Bill Fries, and that we we were the fan club and we were making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This explanation apparently convinced Officer Beane, and his arrival was fortuitous for us because we no longer needed to rely on the unreliable camera timer. We convinced Officer Beane to take the picture for us. In return, we gave him a copy of C.W. McCall’s Greatest Hits and got him to sign The T-Shirt, which was one of the Convoy 2000 shirts that I brought along for the sole purpose of having it signed by the people that we met along the way.

Officer Beane then gave us a tidbit of information: he told us of a building to the north of us, near Beautiful Downtown Audubon and across from the Casey’s General Store, that was the location of the original White House Café, the inspiration for the Old Home Filler-Up An’ Keep On A-Truckin’ Café of the song. He then wished us well, we agreed to stay out of trouble, and Officer Beane went back to his patrol while we tooled north and got a few pictures of the old cafe building.

By the time we finished the clock was striking 20:30, so we headed a bit further north to the local Pizza Hut, chowed down, and then crossed the street and stayed the night at the Holiday Motel. Day One was over.

Clean rooms at reasonable rates

Next: “The World’s Largest Rocky Mountain Oysters” or “That’s A Lot Of Bull!”