42 North Central USA

NORTH CENTRAL USA Jun. – Sep. 2009

Stopped by the FBI

We were in the flat Midwest. However, the fields were lush with corn and soy bean, and we found much of interest in small towns, like a collection of farm toys dating from 1900 to the present and an exhibit on the disastrous floods of the Mississippi. Many towns had hanging baskets of multi-coloured petunias.

The year before, in Alaska, fellow tourists had invited us, and 11 months later we turned up on their doorstep! They live in a charming tree-lined suburb of Fort Madison, Iowa. Not one property had a fence (unlike where we come from!). Their hospitality included a tour of the Keokuk locks where large ships are raised and lowered on the Mississippi River.

Iowa rest areas were convenient to park at overnight, with shade, bbq grills and Wi Fi!

Pella, Iowa has a restored Dutch village with a working windmill and Dutch bakeries.

At the Annual Car Show in Des Moines, we found the thousands of American models of the 30’s to 60s rather boring but a little nostalgic. Where we parked that night, at the Wal-Mart, Dipli attracted a lot of attention as usual. Some asked questions. Many just said: “Welcome to America”, “Safe travels”, “I like your truck” or “Enjoy!”

Wisconsin’s cities of Madison and Milwaukee have the most beautiful buildings right on the water. (By Saarinen, Clatrava, FLW) Our timing was right, and we watched the Circus Parade in Milwaukee. For 3 hours the spectacle continued. Antique circus wagons with musicians, hundreds of horses, scores of marchers and bands, elephants, clowns and people in opulent medieval costumes filed past.

The next museum we visited happened to be about the gangsters of the 1930’s, like Dillinger, Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde (Oshkosh, WI).

Then we had to deal with the gangsters of 2009…: We received an urgent sms to call South Africa. Our son in law had detected that fraudulent withdrawals had been made from our bank account at an ATM. A criminal within the bank had obviously duplicated a bank card. With 7 hours time difference, we had almost 24 hours of emailing, texting and phoning to get it all sorted out.

Houdini had lived in Appleton, WI and his paraphernalia and secrets to escape from straight jackets, milk cans, etc are on display there. Wisconsin is the state with the largest dairy industry and at a cheese factory in Rudolph we saw how 100s of delectable cheeses are made.

We reached the twin cities, Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. Email was fast in the Public Library completed in 2006, but also at one constructed in 1917. At the Science Museum we saw the largest Triceratops skeleton in the U.S.

Duluth is dramatically situated on Lake Superior. Our friends there have a delightful garden and house with 3 cats and an enticing shop called “Lady Ocalat’s Emporium”.

The route next to Lake Superior must be one of the world’s greatest drives.

We entered Canada at Thunder Bay, Ontario.

We went to the city of Sudbury, Ont., where we were married (in 1970) and where Jan had worked for International Nickel and Leone in the Public Library. We tracked down two library colleagues. One couple have a beautiful house in the woods, where we shared gourmet meals and daily champagne breakfasts.

In Michigan you are never more than 5km away from a body of fresh water and we were aware of all the rivers, creeks and lakes when driving off the Interstate.

At the East Michigan Fair, near Imlay City we were guests and were interviewed by the local newspaper. The most unusual variety of rabbits was among the live animals on display. We saw chainsaw-carving and chatted in Afrikaans to the group of young South Africans working at the fair.

Every night in Jackson, MI the Cascades with fountains and 16 waterfalls are illuminated and perform with synchronised music. The Cascade Park opened in 1932!

Dipli had a starting problem. It turned out to be a corroded cable. While Jan was eliminating causes, we received an invitation to a farm in Van Wert, Ohio. We were astonished that, with the best equipment, 4 people can farm 4000 acres and feed 2000 hogs. We left with sweet corn, choc chip/cranberry cookies and zucchini bread.

The James Dean Museum is in Fairmount, Indiana, where he went to school before he became an actor. He crashed his Porsche when he was only 24 (in 1955).

Garfield was born in “Mamma Leoni’s Italian kitchen”. The creator of Garfield, Jim Davis was born in Fairmount and still lives in the area. His first Garfield cartoons were accepted in 1978. Ten thousand Garfield products are currently sold worldwide.

In Indianapolis we had lots of fun at the Indiana State Fair, watching racing piglets sprint towards an Oreo cookie!, a lumber jack show and gargantuan pumpkins being judged. Grub included: “elephant ears”, fried green tomatoes, Rib Eye burgers, candy apples and “taters”, a potato cut in one long shred and deep fried.

Our Hi Lift jack was bent as a result of the rigging when we had the accident in 2008. At the factory in Bloomfield, In., we were hoping to merely buy a new shaft, but instead we were received by the 4th generation owner. He gave us a new Hi Lift, red and white regalia and arranged for us to have a tour of the factory.

Columbus, Indiana is one of the great architectural cities of the U.S., where even schools were designed by renowned architects. A yummy treat was enjoyed at the ornate 100-year old Zaharakos ice cream parlour.

Union Station, Cincinnati, Ohio saw thousands of soldiers being sent off to war. Now the Art Deco building houses museums. The “Dinosaurs Alive” display had full-size models, of gigantic prehistoric animals, moving and roaring. One illustrated that a Gigantoraptor, found in Mongolia, had been covered with feathers.

Dipli meets Diplodocus in Cicinnatti

Columbus, Ohio

“Chihuly Re-imaged”: Large contemporary glass works of art (from the famous Dale Chihuly studio) in many shapes and colours, were placed around the plants in the conservatory of the botanic garden. A stunning scene!

At one of the remaining working glass factories in Cambridge, Ohio we watched the melting and moulding of glass. We also reminisced among the cowboy memorabilia in the museum honouring Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd). Jan had enjoyed watching him on TV; London 1953.

In the countryside of West Virginia we came upon Prabhupada’s palace. A gold covered and flamboyant memorial to a Krishna priest.

“Falling water”, is a spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house cantilevered over a river next to a waterfall. Built in Pennsylvania 70 years ago.

In Virginia we viewed George Washington’s house on the Potomac River and Thomas Jefferson’s home on the hill.

We saw replicas of the ships which had come to Jamestown, to establish the first British colony and where only 60 of 214 people survived the first two years (1607-9).

Yorktown’s 1781 decisive revolutionary battle is depicted in a soldier’s camp with displays of surgical and cooking procedures and demonstrations of firing of the muskets. Our tour of the Battlefield was led by a most brilliant park ranger bringing to life the armies of Washington (assisted by Lafayette) vs. Cornwallis.

In Williamsburg people in traditional dress demonstrate Colonial life of 1700s. The most cherished and remarkable, for us, was to meet artisans of printing, book binding, carpentry, wig making, weaving, gunsmithing etc. They know everything about their trade and still produce articles with 18th century tools, in their small work shops.

After Bacon’s Castle with its Jacobean Architecture it was a scientific experience again: Surry Nuclear Information Center portrays how Nuclear Energy is produced. 104 Nuclear power stations providing 20% of the US’s power. Used fuel is stored securely on the premises awaiting the opening of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada (now postponed to after 2017).

From a generous friend’s handsome home, we enjoyed the sights of Washington, DC

The White House

Arlington Cemetery

Jan drove Dipli so that Leone could photograph him in front of the Capitol. It was just before a “nine/eleven” anniversary and the president was to give a speech in the Capitol that evening. A few blocks further, when we stopped to set the GPS navigator to take us home, we saw flashing lights behind us.

Suddenly to the side and behind the driver’s door, hand on holster, appeared a flushed man in an FBI windbreaker: “Let me see both your hands!” “Switch off, use one hand only, then let me see both your hands again”. “Now get out!”.

The handwritten International Driving Permit is not good enough, so Jan goes to get our passports and a second agent follows Jan into the camper. (Presumably to check that it was not filled with drums of fertiliser & diesel). In the mean time a woman “passer by” elbows between two FBI agents to question Leone extensively about our travels. (Was she one of them?). After half an hour, the rush hour traffic is backed up behind us. No response from “Big Brother” on the radioed inquiry about us. “We have decided to let you go” – looking rather sheepish.

This journey up to September 2009:

Time on the road (excluding home visits): 5 years, 10 months

Kilometres driven: 247 000 Countries visited: 88 (with Dipli). US States: 39

Back to 0 Contents