Chapter 7 : Across Nebraska

The original version of this article was published in The Legend-News of 2000 July 3, 2000 July 10, and 2000 July 17. Slight changes have been made, but nothing that affects the facts.

Albert the Bull, and The Drive-In Theatre Over By Pisgah

Tuesday morning. 2000 May 30, if you’re keeping track. The real Memorial Day.

I needed some caffeinated bean juice, so we drove down to the Casey’s where I filled up my Thermos with a half-quart of coffee and bought a couple of donuts. We’d filled our fuel tanks on the previous night, and once again we headed south, this time towards the city park.

If you search for Audubon on Roadside America, you won’t find a mention of C.W. McCall or Bill Fries. What you will find is a description of Albert, the World’s Largest Bull, a 30-foot tall Hereford. Although Albert wasn’t around when Bill lived in Audubon, we just had to visit.

After that brief pause, Alan fired up the GPS unit and we headed towards Woodbine. Along the way we managed to find the West Nishnabotna River, which was having a good year because it was a couple of yards wide although probably still just a foot deep. Then we come upon a big sign says “Woodbine” where we hung a left over the railroad tracks and proceeded northwards to Pisgah.

Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember that the inspiration for the “Old Home Filler-Up An’ Keep On A-Truckin’ Café” was a restaurant in Audubon. But the real, working “Old Home Café” is in Pisgah, which is where many of the Old Home Bread commercials were filmed. If you’re looking for the Café, you might not spot it on your first glance. It’s not like Planet Hollywood, all glittery and glitzy; no, it’s a working man’s (and ladies) stop for coffee and lunch. Yeah, and the Old Home Bar is in the east end of the same building, just in case you’re looking for something stronger.

The sign out front says “Rains Old Home Filler Up Café”. Step inside and you’ll find Tina, who runs the Café, and a wall of C.W. McCall pictures and news articles about the filming of those aforementioned commercials. Under the cash register there’s a display case with Old Home Café t-shirts and caps and what-not. Buy something; Alan got himself a foam beer can holder and I got a cap.

Alan and I talked with Tina when she wasn’t busy serving the clientel. She told us about the filming that took place there twenty-five years ago, and about some of the the locals who appeared in the commercials. She said that we’d just missed Leo Alton (he played Mavis’ father). We took some pictures of the Wall of Fame and I got Tina to sign The T-Shirt. We gave her a Convoy 2000 t-shirt that we hope she’ll hang on the wall with the other C.W. stuff.

Then we went a block down the street to an old filling station. It looked like a Sinclair design to me, but I could be wrong. This filling station isn’t in use any longer, at least not for dispensing gasoline or repairing cars, but it was in use back in the early 1970s. And according to Tina, this was the “drive-in theatre” that C.W. mentioned in the song. The cars would park behind the building, and the movies were projected on the back wall. We took more pictures.

But we couldn’t stay in town for long, because we needed to get through Omaha that day: T A used to live in O-town and he wanted to stop at an old haunt, the Merchant of Venus bookstore. So I mailed a letter at the local post office and we headed south for exit 12 on I-680 and the big city.

Mormon Bridge Road… Where Have I Heard Of That Street Before?

Time’s about 11 o’clock. Alan and I are headed south on I-29. We’re going to look for exit 12 on I-680, and the spot where the Smokies picked up C.W. doing 67 per through their speed trap. The exit is on the Nebraska side, so when we reach the 29/680 split we turn west for a few miles then loop through an exit and an entrance, and two miles later we’re on the side of the road taking another picture of a road sign. We don’t see any bears about, fortunately (“Yessir, officer, this is an emergency stop. We’ve got to take a picture”).

Alan wants to stop at the Merchant of Venus bookstore in Omaha. We exit the Interstate at US 75, and in less than a quarter mile we’re going throught an intersection and I notice that the name of the street has changed: it’s no longer 48th Street, it’s Mormon Bridge Road. Somehow that name seems familiar, but I can’t place it. We continue south as Alan gets his bearings.

About a mile and half further down, Alan hails me on the CB. He’s got the same thought as I did: that Mormon Bridge Road is a name that we ought to remember. Then I think about it, and wonder what’s the address of American Gramaphone? We pull into the parking lot of a church and I grab the CD case, looking for The Real McCall. Sure enough, that’s why we know the name of this road! American Gramaphone is located at 9130!

Now we hadn’t planned on stopping at A.G., but since we seemed to be about a mile away — having already passed it — we decided to turn back and see if we could talk with Chip Davis, and maybe get his autograph. So we back up a mile, pull into the lot, figure out what building is 9130, and armed with a couple of CDs we approach the front door and walk inside. By the way, parked outside the building is a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee; remember that fact, because it’ll be important later.

Hi! We’re the C.W. McCall Fan Club! Can We Talk To Chip Davis?

There’s a lady behind from desk, name of Teshana (and I hope I’ve spelled that correctly), and we said, “Hi! Can we talk to Chip Davis?” Teshana says that Chip’s on a conference call at the moment, and that he’s late for a video shoot, but she’ll ask if he can meet us for a few minutes. In the meantime, we can watch a DVD promotion on the AV demonstration system in the lobby. (If you’ve got a DVD player and 5.1 audio system, you ought to get American Gramaphone’s videos on DVD; the sound is fantastic.) While we’re watching the video, Teresa Holmes — the head of customer service — comes out to greet us. I mention my name, and Teresa asks "Is that spelled F-L-O-D-E-N?" I tell her that it is, and I realize that I’ve obviously sent too many inquiries to A.G., because they know who I am. On the other hand, this might increase our chances for meeting Chip, as long as I haven’t been pegged as a security threat.

Teresa took Alan and I on a tour through the studio area, where some of the sets for the videos are still standing. There’s a Christmas-decorated one, and there’s the "Egyptian tomb" set. But the place is quiet, because no one’s working back here today (remember, yesterday was Memorial Day) and the techs that would usually be around are out on the video shoot, the one for which Chip is already late.

We also walk through the shipping department, and on the shelf we found the box that holds the copies of The Real McCall. Yes, there still are a few CDs available, so act now while operators are on duty!

Then we stopped at Teresa’s desk. We’d been talking about our web sites, and Alan had mentioned that my site had a copy of a cover of “Convoy” by a band called Prolix, which is arguably the worst rendition of “Convoy” that was ever made, and I’m counting the William Shatner commercial. Teresa wanted to hear it, so we downloaded a copy of the file and subjected her to three minutes and forty-six seconds of relative hell. She thought that the song was “interesting”, and promised to play it for Chip.

Speaking of Chip, by this time we’ve been at A.G. for about an hour, and it’s beginning to look as if we’ll not be able to meet Chip, because when he gets out of that meeting he’ll need to head out to the video shoot. Teresa says that he hasn’t left yet, because “his car is still in the lot”. That’s when I look outside and try to guess which vehicle could be Chip’s. I pick the silver Jeep Grand Cherokee. Teresa refuses to verify my guess; smart lady.

I get Teresa and Teshana to sign The T-Shirt, and we gave them a Convoy 2000 t-shirt for Chip and we were about to leave when Chip walked in through the front door. Despite his schedule, and the fact that he was way behind for the day, he stopped to speak we us. We told him about Convoy 2000, which he didn’t know about, and the web sites, which he did. He seemed surprised that there was a C.W. McCall Fan Club, unofficial though it was.

[Chip knows about the sites, and Bill knows about the sites, and we haven’t been sued yet. This must be a good sign, as is the supposition that SESAC (the licensing agency) doesn’t know about us, and they’ve got the lawyers. — Ed.]

So we talked about Convoy 2000 and going to see Bill in Ouray, and asked Chip if the “Visions” video would be released on DVD. (That’s the one with the “Comin’ Back For More” video on it.) Chip said that he wasn’t sure yet, but they’d be making a decision in a few months. Chip signed The T-Shirt and Alan took out the two “C.W. McCall’s Greatest Hits” CDs that he’d brought along and Chip signed those, too. And then Chip asked us where we had gotten the CDs, because he didn’t have any copies in-house. (Alan left six copies for him.) We also told Chip about the “Convoy” cover by Prolix, and he said he’d listen to it when he had a chance. There was also a discussion of why the world would probably never seen a CD release of C.W.’s original albums (PolyGram has the master tapes).

Chip was reminded that he was late for the video shoot, and with the threat of a few promises to bother him in the future, Chip and family (did I mention that his wife and daughter were there?) departed in the silver Jeep Grand Cherokee. (I’m a good guesser, aren’t I?)

In all, we found Chip to be a nice guy and pretty informal, much like we expected him to be. Even though we had only ten minutes to talk, at least the existence of the Crispy Critters is now known at American Gramaphone. Now if we could just convince PolyGram of the worthiness of our cause…

Circuitus Interruptus, Then Back On the Road

We’re still in Nebraska. Yeah, still. It wasn’t really our fault, though. Alan’s Metro developed an electrical problem, and we spent about four hours getting it fixed. By the time we finally got back on the road the time was 17:00 and we had to fight our way through the rush hour traffic back to the Interstate. Eventually we were westbound on I-80 and determined to make up for lost time.

Our progress was mostly limited by Alan’s can. Its top speed was about 71 miles per hour, and that was achieved only by removing the drive belt for the air conditioning compressor. Just keeping the A/C off wasn’t enough; a total mechanical disconnection from the compressor was necessary for the Metro to reach warp speed. Alan had been driving this way since Baltimore, with his windows rolled down to catch a breeze. My Saturn SC2 hadn’t yet experienced any problems, except for an annoying rattle in the catalytic converter (the baffles were rusted). But we hadn’t travelled through any really hot days or climbed any really steep mountains yet. In fact, on the way west on I-80 we drove during a fairly cloudy evening, and an occasional drizzle fell on our windshields.

Alan took the lead for the most part. Since we weren’t in a hurry, I hung out behind him, sometimes getting as far as two miles away before accelerating to 75 mph and catching up with him. On I-80 there weren’t many sites to see, but I did pass a few signs pointing to places that I’d visited before, such as Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village in Minden.

Being cheap, we decided to forego rented shelter (a.k.a. “motel”) that night, and stopped overnight at a rest area that was about 20 miles east of the northeast corner of Colorado. The night was cool, in the 50s, with occasional rain. I slept in the driver’s seat of my car, while Alan claimed one of the picnic shelters at the back of the stop.

Next: Wolf Creek Pass, ’Way Up On The Great Divide