Get your kicks on ... the Lincoln Highway
No matter what refinery in Texas explodes or what African pipeline is seized by militants loyal to al-Qaida, thereby influencing the price Big Oil puts on a gallon of gas, my wife and I are cruisers.
If we’re bored, we take a drive.
If our son is acting a little too squirrelly for comfort, the easiest solution is to strap him in and take a drive.
Growing up in Jefferson, scooping the loop on Friday and Saturday nights was a rite of passage.
For my wife, Amy, growing up in Sioux City, Morningside Avenue was the place to be.
We were, after all, children of the “American Graffiti” generation. Technology hadn’t progressed to the point where it was more fun to stay home.
So it was probably inevitable that we would someday want to undertake a trip on Route 66.
For us, Route 66 is (maybe strangely) our idea of a dream vacation, offering history, midcentury kitsch and, of course, lots and lots of cruising.
We’re slowly working our way through the entire, 2,451-mile stretch and have so far traveled from Chicago to Tulsa, Okla.
We’re not even to the midway point in Adrian, Texas (pop. 166).
With my brother, Marty, I’ve also skipped ahead and traveled from Barstow, Calif., in the Mojave Desert into Los Angeles.
When Amy was pregnant in 2008 with our son, Henry, we embarked on our first leg, which took us from Chicago to St. Louis — a 4½-hour drive on modern-day Interstate 55, but one that took us a couple of days on old Route 66.
In Staunton, Ill., which isn’t much bigger than Jefferson, we had trouble finding a roadside attraction called Henry’s Rabbit Ranch (the fact that our future son would be named Henry was, in retrospect, maybe subconscious).
We stopped at a gas station to inquire.
Much to our frustration, no one had ever heard of anything called Henry’s Rabbit Ranch there in Staunton.
“Impossible,” we thought, considering that Henry’s Rabbit Ranch was featured in all the guides to Route 66.
So we pressed on, eventually finding the right alignment of Route 66 that it’s on.
And there it was — a collection of junk that would have dropped even Fred Sanford to his knees.
God, it was a beautiful sight.
Like some sort of post-apocalyptic filling station, there was stuff everywhere, from a giant, fiberglass rabbit to the owner’s own tribute to Cadillac Ranch in Texas using Volkswagen Rabbits buried in the ground.
Among the many items sitting in the yard was the old neon sign from the Stanley Cour-tel Motel in St. Louis, where the Project Mercury astronauts would stay when visiting the McDonnell Aircraft Corp.
We ventured inside and got an autograph from Montana, a bunny rabbit running for president that election year.
That is, he nibbled the edge of a postcard for us.
I couldn’t fathom how the locals didn’t know about this place, especially considering the guestbook was filled with recent visitors from the Netherlands, France and Japan.
Like I said, Staunton is about the size of Jefferson, and I’d like to think that if foreign tourists were passing through Jefferson with regularity, we’d all know about it.
Except that there’s a good chance we’re not really paying attention.
The Lincoln Highway, which passes right through Greene County, was the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway and thereby still secures a place in the hearts and minds of history buffs, classic car enthusiasts and lovers of all things Americana.
By turning the Lincoln Highway in Iowa into a heritage byway in recent years, the state has done a stellar job of marking the old route.
The DOT’s concept for a new Highway 30 overpass near Grand Junction paying tribute to the Lincoln Highway is another step in the right direction.
Last year — the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway — a group of nearly two dozen Scandinavians passed through Greene County on their journey across the U.S. on the highway.
There’s a good chance many others are quietly passing through as well.
But, I have a confession to make.
While still living in Ohio not too long ago, I caught a PBS documentary on the Lincoln Highway and its history.
The documentary specifically delved into two concrete monuments along the highway just north of Scranton bearing busts of Abraham Lincoln.
I had no idea they were there, let alone had been there since 1924, when James Moss, a Civil War veteran who’d lost his leg in the war between the states, erected them in tribute to his former commander-in-chief.
Here I was, 660 miles away from Greene County, learning something about the very area where I grew up.
To me, the Lincoln Highway was just always there. It was just some road that went through my hometown.
That made me no better than the people back in Staunton, Ill.
The Moss Corner Markers were restored in 2001 after having been vandalized in the 1950s — one of the missing Lincoln heads was found in 1993 in Charles City — and are worth a look if you’ve never seen them.
That kind of work done by Jefferson’s Bob and Joyce Ausberger, Bob Owens and the rest of the Lincoln Highway Association should be applauded.
Like Route 66, businesses and landmarks vanish annually from the Lincoln Highway.
Their efforts ensure that when we stop taking the Lincoln Highway for granted, there will still be something for us to see.
But, besides that, with or without a casino, the Lincoln Highway has probably always been our best shot at tourism revenue.
When the Lincoln Highway route was announced back in 1913, it was appropriately front-page news — WE GET THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY, the Jefferson Bee shouted on Sept. 17 that year.
However, one particular part of the story still rings true.
“Shall we get busy and show the Lincoln Highway Association that we are fully appreciative of the location of the memorial highway through Greene County?” the newspaper asked.
“If we don’t,” the paper added, “we are a bunch of ingrates.”