Bob Ausberger, of Jefferson, holds an old sign last week that he said would have marked the spot of a fatal crash on the Lincoln Highway. Ausberger is standing in front of a shed on the property of Randy Monthei, who recently uncovered a hand-painted sign advertising Portage Tires to travelers a century ago on the highway.

Discoveries (and a few extra bucks) yet to be made on Lincoln Highway

Giant garage sale planned along historic route


If it’s possible for a man in his mid-70s to geek out, the discovery this year of a so-called ghost sign on the Lincoln Highway west of Jefferson is it for Bob Ausberger.

“The more I think about it, the more excited I am,” Ausberger said last week as he inspected a hand-painted roadside advertisement for Portage Tires found by Randy Monthei underneath tar paper on the side of a 110-year-old shed.

As the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway, the Lincoln Highway in its heyday proved to be an obvious place for advertising.

The traffic these days isn’t as heavy, but Ausberger and other road enthusiasts still believe it’s a mighty fine place to make a sale.

He’s doing what he can to see that the annual Lincoln Highway Buy-Way Yard & Garage Sale takes off in Greene County.

This year’s event Aug. 13-15 will be the third year the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association has participated, with the vision of creating one contiguous garage sale along the length of the road.

Iowa is the most western state to so far participate, joining Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Ausberger believes it’s not only a chance for people to make some extra cash — sellers keep what they earn — but a way for Greene County residents to interact with the historic highway in their backyard.

“The garage sale gives everyone a chance to support us,” Ausberger said. “We want the community to participate a little.”

Sellers, he said, can participate all three days or just a portion.

To get your sale on the Lincoln Highway Buy-Way map and listing, contact Ausberger at 515-370-3738 or wife Joyce Ausberger at 515-370-4022 by Aug. 6.

The recent discovery of the Portage Tires sign, Ausberger believes, is proof that new discoveries continue to be made on the Lincoln Highway, which was replaced by U.S. Highway 30.

“Randy (Monthei) says there’s remains of a Model T out here somewhere,” Ausberger said.

The faded advertisement could be a century old itself — the Ohio-based Portage Rubber Co. lasted from 1911 to 1921 — and likely was placed there by the Portage dealer further up the Lincoln Highway in Jefferson, according to Monthei.

“The more we think about it, the more of a little attraction it is,” Ausberger said.

Monthei, whose family has owned the property since 1880, said the shed was the first building erected on the site in 1905.

When the Lincoln Highway eventually came through in the teens, the shed’s proximity to the road proved too tempting for advertisers.

“If you wanted to go to California, that’s what you got on,” Monthei said of the Lincoln Highway.

The fourth generation to call the property home, Monthei uncovered the Portage sign this spring.

“My wife would like for me to tear the whole building down,” he said. “I told her it’d have to be over my dead body.”

The sign has been largely protected by a carport built later on, which also makes it difficult to see today from the road. But Monthei is afraid that tearing the overhang off would leave the sign exposed to the elements.

“Every time you look at it, you get different images,” said Ausberger, who believes there might actually be a sign under the sign.

Monthei said he doesn’t mind if people stop to look.

While there, road enthusiasts might also want to check out the remains of a Lincoln Highway rental cabin that Ausberger and others moved to the property from Jefferson a couple of years ago.

Monthei said in retirement, he wants to restore the cabin that once stood on the site of the Travel Inn Court across from the fairgrounds.

It’s unknown when the travel court opened, but the Quirk family bought it in 1947.

Ausberger has the inn’s original sign-in book at his Lincoln Highway museum in Grand Junction, and said the book bears the signature of one Ronald Reagan.

Ausberger and 78-year-old Warner Quirk, of Jefferson, whose parents ran the court, are skeptical that the future president (and movie star) stayed there.

But when you consider that Reagan grew up in Dixon, Ill. — a town right on the Lincoln Highway — anything’s possible.

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Jefferson, IA 50129

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