Iowa reminds us why America’s Great Plains are called The Heartland!
I have been through Iowa many times in the fifty or so years since the days I was a teenage Air Force Brat. Iowa’s amber waves of grain, and the tall corn that makes snapping sounds as it grows are a testimony to the fertility of its land and the industry of the people. Normally, my wife and I have just have just zipped through this distant horizon landscape to reach mountain destinations to the west. But early last year we paused to spend just a few days here on two occasions.
The first occasion was to buy our new Winnebago motor home in Forest City which is about halfway across the state and only an hour south of Nebraska. We live in Ohio but chose to buy from Lichtsinn in Forest City for several reasons. Lichtsinn is only about a few short miles from the Winnebago factory south of town. This meant that we could drive our new purchase ourselves during the first one-thousand mile break-in period. We were diligent in our trip back to Ohio to vary our speed and avoid towing according to the manual and the instructions from the Lichtsinn sales and service staff.
Forest City seems an unlikely place for a huge RV factory. As one of our nephews might say “Forest City is in the middle of nowhere”. And what a beautiful nowhere it is! We reached our motel in the evening near the dealership after travelling west over miles of two lane roads through endless fields stretching to a horizon we couldn’t reach under a sunset that only the great plains can produce. It was Holy Thursday. We could only fit into the dealer’s schedule on Good Friday afternoon if we didn’t want to wait another couple of weeks. And we were anxious to move into the next phase of our travelling adventures with our new motorhome.
Forest City is small; only slightly more than four thousand people. So we only had to go a little more than walking distance from Lichtsinn to reach one of the few restaurants in town. Our sales person directed us to one that was only a block from the Winnebago dealership. The food was great and we then spent some time wandering the city streets before heading to bed.
Friday morning we headed north from our motel into town to a coffee shop we had passed the night before. Coffee and a light breakfast were excellent and exceeded only by stimulating conversation with the friendly locals. One of them was a ninety-three year old lady who had lived in Forest City all her life. We were assured that everyone in town knew her. We were in no hurry and became captivated by this senior citizen’s youthful energy and love for her home. She and her daughter, who was visiting, were both adept at the almost lost art of stimulating conversation. As my wife and I went on our way we found ourselves hoping that we would meet them again on future trips.
We still had plenty of time before our early afternoon meeting and used it to get to know the town with its hand-built courthouse over one hundred years old, the Winnebago factory on the south edge of town and Waldorf University which is a private liberal arts school offering a wide variety of associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Since it was Good Friday we spent part of the morning finding out where to attend evening Good Friday services. We learned they would be in the nearby city of Britt and conducted by a priest who was shared by several parishes in cities scattered across the prairie. We took the rest of the morning to leisurely to find our way to Britt which was about a half hour away at Great Plains speeds.
It was a peaceful drive through farms in land that was varied between being only slightly rolling to more frequently flat. It is a place where lonely dirt roads stretching across the country plains have city names like Thirty-Fourth Avenue. You know where the next city is because you see its distant water tower and grain silos begin to creep up over the horizon. Once we were sure we knew where the church was we returned by a different route to Forest City which took us past the extensive Winnebago properties.
In these early morning to late evening travels there is a strikingly beautiful set of images I can’t get out of my mind. These are visions that can only be seen on the vastness of the Great Plains.
Imagine standing in the middle of a railroad track looking west on a crisp morning with air so clear you are certain you could see California if the Earth was flat. The tracks extend from each side of your peripheral vision to that infinitely distant horizon. Telephone poles at their measured intervals diminish in size along the track with the farthest pole becoming just a pinpoint. Crops on both sides provide a frame to the entire scene.
A transition takes place as the day continues. Clarity gives way to shimmering hazy warmth as the insect symphony increases in volume. The tracks and the poles look like they march into a lake created by a mirage long before they reach the horizon.
But the best may be saved for the evening as the reddening sun, which seems to take forever to set, lights up the shiny railroad tracks like parallel laser beams emanating from a sky painted by the Master Artist.
Our original intention in travelling to Forest City was to buy from Lichtsinn because of their great helpfulness on phone and email as well as our desire to put the break-in miles on our motorhome ourselves. We are thrilled that we did that. However, beyond that we were rewarded by a couple of days being enchanted by that part of Iowa.
We left for our Ohio home the next day planning to return to Iowa in a few weeks to have HWH levelers recommended by Lichtsinn installed on our new adventure vehicle. That next trip took us to HWH Corporation in Moscow in eastern Iowa. HWH has camp sites on their property for RVs and we stayed for a night and part of two days as the work was being done. While there we discovered that the location where the movie “Field of Dreams” was shot was only an hour away. We drove the Honda Fit we tow behind our RV which now had over one-thousand miles on it to an Interstate truck stop with many attached eating places. We had breakfast there before heading north through the farmlands to our destination.
We were now in gently rolling country that can steal your heart as it takes your breath away with every turn in the road and crested hill. We followed our GPS as we weaved our way through hill and dale and small to medium size towns. On a short part of the drive we were on U.S. Route 20, the U.S. Grant Highway, which is the longest route in the United States. Today that entire route is paved but we encountered an historic piece of the coast-to-coast Grant Highway which is still the original dirt road.
When we reached the “Field of Dreams” ball diamond and house it was like we had entered the movie set. The feeling was the same as we had when watching the film. We walked the baseball diamond and stood on the pitcher’s mound and at home plate as in our mind’s eye we saw the baseball players walking onto the field from the rows of corn. Surprisingly there was no charge to be on the field and walk the grounds. The only fees were to enter the farmhouse or buy the reasonably priced souvenirs. We were there for about an hour talking to the staff, one of whom had a bit role in the movie, before heading back to Moscow and our motorhome with its new levelers.
On our return to Moscow e deliberately chose a different route which was just as beautiful as the drive we took weaving along the countryside to the “Field of Dreams”. It was this adventure that led us to name our new possession “Dreamweaver”.
Generally on our trips west from Ohio we have scooted across the Great Plains in a “forced march” to the mountains and desert. This was only the second time we have paused to enjoy the beauty of the Heartland. The first was the previous year when we toured part of Nebraska. We will be sure to pause more in the future in this gorgeous part of our great country. We had no idea when we chose to travel to Iowa to buy from Lichtsinn that we would have our pleasure doubled by the joy of spending a little time in Iowa.
Written By Tom Mikesell, Ohio
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