Creative Characters and Century Old Automobiles – The 2019 Hudson International Meet

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

A few weekends ago, I found my way to Bettendorf, Iowa with a close friend of mine and fellow traveler of the Open Road, Alan, to take in the event that is known as the Hudson International Meet. While I was only able to make two days of this event, which was held this year at the same time as the yearly function of the regional club of Hudson enthusiasts, the Big Country, I was able to take in many of the sights, the sounds, and the happenings of the Internationals. As I have been a frequent visitor of this event over the years, I was pleased to see many old friends and spend some time catching up. As with every journey, I was also lucky enough to encounter some new characters along the way and learn some of their particular stories.

This year was much like many of the ones previous, with quite the variety of events taking place over the course of the two days I was lucky enough to have in Bettendorf, which is located along the Mississippi River in Eastern Iowa. After having quite a few days of rain, it was a welcome sight to see the sun shining down, hot and bright, on the event. Every year at the Hudson Internationals, the H-E-T (Hudson Essex Terraplane) Club features a certain car model. This year, the spotlight was shined on the Essex, which I was happy to see a few of about the grounds.

As that first day went on, I found myself under the shade of an old oak tree to escape the heat. Taking a seat, I found myself in front of a 1919 Essex Roadster. As the sun was not going anywhere this day, I put to paper this automobile, hardly believing that it was 100 years old. It is an odd feeling to describe any auto on the road now at that age, as it does not seem all that long ago that you could not find one such antique that could be called a century old.

My rendition of the 1919 Essex Roadster

After leaving my shady spot, I found my way over to the swap meet before the evening’s activities were set to begin. As luck would have it, I found a couple more antique license plates to add to my collection, both originating from the East Coast – Massachusetts and New York. After loading up these finds, it was time to find my way to the evening events located nearby. As I journeyed on, many folks were hitting the parking lot to enjoy the cooler temperatures and enjoy the many fine models of antique automobiles on display. I must say, as I took in these sights, that the Hudsons of all varieties do have a style of beauty that is exciting and a joy to draw.

There were two activities that took place inside the Isles Casino Conference Center, where the Internationals were being held. The first event on that Friday evening was always one of a kind, as it was the Costume Contest/Fashion Show. It is quite the sight to see what folks come up with each year. This year those who participated dressed up as Hudson mechanics from the bygone era. There were quite a few characters who created their own interpretations of the theme and paraded across the stage for all to see.

There was one such character who stood out among the rest. A fellow by the name of Chuck, who hailed from Iowa, dressed himself as a mechanic, with his wife coming along, dressed as his service manager or his boss. As they entered, the room came alive with laughter, as his “boss” wife was leading Chuck around the room by his ear. Chuck had no choice but to go where his boss led him, as he played up the scene by wincing and acting like a man, or a mechanic, being led straight to the doghouse. One of the fellows near me added to the commentary of the scene by stating she must have caught him trying to change “a muffler bearing,” which for those who are not as versed in the automobile world, is not a part that exists. Such a scene deserved to be remembered, so I did a quick illustration of Chuck and his Boss.

No more “muffler bearings” for Chuck to change in the doghouse

The second activity in the Conference Center was the auction for Hudson memorabilia and beyond. I must say that if my pockets stretched a bit further, I would have had plenty of items coming back to Boom Town with me. However, since I did not want to end up like Chuck, I figured it was in my best interest to sit back, watch, and listen as these antiques found a new home.

Speaking of Chuck, he must have had some sense to him after all. Good ol’ Chuck, with his poor stretched ear, must have figured a way out of the doghouse as he came to bid that day. As I watched block after block come up and be sold to a deserving character, I heard Chuck come forward with the winning bid on quite the beautiful automobile to behold. His ticket out of the doghouse was an original 1957 Hudson 4-Door, or what some of us in the know call the “Hash.” Back in 1956, Hudson went in with Nash and this beauty came about, nickname and all. I could not let this moment, of Chuck and his Hash, go without a drawing to memorialize one interesting character making his triumphant return.

Saturday brought the 2019 Hudson International Meet to a close. I visited once more with many an old friend, bidding a fond journey down the road until we might cross paths again. New characters I had met also came along to give their best as I watched the parking lot grow empty as the fine automobiles found their way to trailer and to the Open Road. Before all had departed, I had the good fortune to get in a drawing of a real rare beauty, a Hudson Jet Convertible. It is said that this rarity was the only one to have ever been created. A fellow from Indiana brought this unique antique to the meet and I am grateful that he was able to bring it along for all of us to have the opportunity to see such a rare delight.

Truly One of a Kind

As I look back on my weekend filled with all things Hudson Essex Terraplane, I find myself quite pleased to have had the opportunity to visit with old characters from journeys before and to have met so many new folks at such an event. I must say that it still holds true that I have yet to meet a Hudson owner who I have not liked. The automobiles are truly a sight to behold, but the characters who own and love these antiques are equally a grand part of each journey I make along the Open Road. I hope you remember, my fellow travelers, to always make each journey its own and to live life, and meet plenty of interesting characters, by taking your own trip out on the Open Road.

From the Open Road, 

Lincoln Highway Johnny

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Pole Painting, Rodeo Clowns, and the Lincoln Highway

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

I have often talked about the history of the Lincoln Highway and the many stories I have found myself inspired by as I have traversed that open road from both east and west. However, as we approach another one of the Lincoln Highway Association National Conferences, I find myself looking back at the beginnings of this very Association here in my home state of Iowa. And, as it so often seems to happen, I also find myself recalling a story I was told while I was doing my own early part of helping to contribute to the lasting memory of the Great Road itself.

The Lincoln Highway Association as you find it today was formed in 1992. The Iowa Chapter came together in October of that year, with many folks meeting to share their love of the road and the history that you find along it. Each one of these characters, myself among them, wanted to find our own way to contribute to the new association. We all shared in the excitement of bringing the history of the Lincoln Highway back to the modern times and, as we continued on, we each took on our own responsibility in telling the story of the Great Road.

As the artist and vagabond I am, I found that my endeavor to bring the Road back to life was to take to the poles. Back in the times gone by, the telephone poles along the Lincoln Highway would be painted with the signature colors and symbol of the Road itself so that travelers could find their way. These poles were found across the country in the early 1910s, but thanks to time and some newer poles, the paint was only a bygone memory to be seen in photos of the day. I decided I would load up my ladder, my paint, and my brushes, and set out to recreate these logos so that travelers of today would be able to find this original route of the Lincoln Highway as they journeyed across Iowa.

Photo by Michael Kelly

As I began my journey of painting poles, I found that Sunday morning was my time of choice. While folks would join together inside during those morning hours, I found myself out of doors, traveling along the empty roads in search of my next bit of wooden canvas. Each Sunday morning that brought the song of the birds and the sun shining down, I would head on out along the open road to my next destination.

It was one of those clear Sunday mornings that I found myself to the east of Ogden, Iowa, near to the small town of Beaver. The Lincoln Highway once had wound along the roads I was standing on, heading north through the main straight of Ogden before turning itself west on the first gravel road. As it headed out from that larger town, it dropped into Beaver before continuing its long journey. Though the years had changed much of the surrounding area, the road I had set my ladder along had not been touched by the swift current of time. That old gravel road was still the same road it had been, still reaching out to the west.

As the birds sang their tune, I set about unloading the rest of my pole painting equipment. The world was peaceful around me that Sunday morning in April of 1993, and the telephone pole I had chosen was on the south side of that gravel road. Across the road, there was an old farmstead facing out, with a two-story farmhouse built in the fashion of years gone by, but looked as though those same years had not touched a piece of siding on it. After admiring the handiwork, I pulled my gear, my ladder, my paintbox, and my trusty license plate out. Now that license plate was not meant for any car, but was my measuring tool of choice to place the red and blue bands of the Lincoln Highway logo on the pole in front of me.

Lincoln Highway Johnny leaving his mark along the original Lincoln Highway in Boone County, Iowa.

Once I had found my way up the ladder to my painting position, I started to draw out my design. As I was finishing up with my measuring tool, there was a small noise from below. Standing below me, shielding her eyes from the morning sun, stood a little old lady who seemed to have come over from that farmhouse I had been admiring earlier. She introduced herself as Lucille and told me she had to come on out to see what a character like myself was doing on a ladder alongside the telephone pole across from her yard. As I told the story of how the poles had once marked the original Lincoln Highway, she nodded along and agreed that it was the thing to do now that the Association had been formed. She then thought a moment and told me she had her own story from this gravel road that led travelers along the Great Road to the west. I told her that I would be happy to hear her tale and came down to earth as she began to tell me about an old rodeo cowboy who also happened to be her uncle.

Back when Lucille and the Lincoln Highway had both been a few years younger, her uncle had been a rodeo cowboy and clown who had traveled across the Midwest. Back in those early days, there was money to be earned as a bronco rider in the rodeos in the area. However, as there were often many brave cowboys stepping up to ride those bucking broncs, being a rodeo clown could earn a cowboy a few extra bits of coin to use as pocket change. Her uncle had been one of these cowboys, and though his given name was Albert, he went by the name of Tex Winton, which she reckoned was a better name for a cowboy to begin with. Now Tex often traveled outside of the Midwest, using the Lincoln Highway to find his way west to where those larger rodeos would often take place. Lucille said that Tex claimed he had ridden in all the big rodeos, but it had been one in the state of Oklahoma that had been the roughest ride. At this rodeo, Tex had ridden a particularly rough bronco and had been thrown to the ground. From this ride, Tex received a back injury from which he never fully recovered.

Some time after that ill-fated ride, Tex found his way to the old farmhouse where his brother and his family lived in Central Iowa. Lucille recalls her father welcoming in the depressed rodeo cowboy, who had fallen on hard times thanks to his friendship with cards and the bottle. For a while, the family lived and worked together with their new addition, but it was not long before the brothers had it out. Lucille’s father gave Tex the choice between the road and work after the dust had settled once more. It was the night after that ultimatum was issued that Lucille recalled sitting on the porch with her uncle, who seemed to be a man without a friend in the world. Being the smart young lady she was, she told the cowboy that he needed to find himself a friend of the canine variety. She figured having a friend such as that would help bring him out of his dark days and help him avoid those bad choices he kept seeming to make. Lucille said Tex thought for a moment and then reckoned she was right, only he did not know where to find such a canine companion. The next morning, Tex packed up his suitcase, wished the family farewell, and headed out to the west on the Lincoln Highway.

It was a year later that Tex Winton came back to the farmhouse, and what a difference a year had made. Rather than the sad clown they remembered, Tex rolled up on the Great Road, driving an old automobile of the large touring car variety, though Lucille could not remember the exact make. The man himself had also made quite the change, as he returned to the home with a large grin on his face and a new best friend, an Australian Shepard by the name of Rascal, on the seat beside him. Tex had found his way on back to the rodeo, but instead of sitting on the saddle, he acted the clown all the more, with Rascal a ready partner in his new tricks. As Lucille recalled the dog, she smiled widely, sharing that Rascal was a brilliant hound and she had not since met a dog who had been as much fun to be around. That summer, Tex and Rascal entertained their family with their tricks of the trade, showing off the lasso jumping feats and more Tex had taught his friend to do. However, the partners only stayed for about a week before the rodeo clown and his canine companion journeyed along to the next rodeo along the way.

Tex and Rascal returned once more that following summer, though their old automobile did not. After the duo and their gear was dropped off at the farmhouse, Tex told the tale of his journey to the west along the Great Road. He had been heading on out to the 1929 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo when his auto had broken on down on the side of the road. After the year of clowning around, Tex claimed his back had been ready for the broncos again. He was headed to the west to continue to refresh his skills when the car had given out on him. Not one to give up any longer, Tex and Rascal found their way to the nearest Lincoln Highway concrete marker and had set themselves up to wait for the next friendly fellow in a vehicle to come along. His ride finally came along after a few hours along the marker and the partners found themselves in the great state of Wyoming. Lucille could not remember exactly how Tex had done at that particular rodeo, but she did recall that he had arrived at the home, still grinning alongside his best friend.

That summer was the last time Lucille saw her uncle and his canine, though she did recall receiving letters and cards over the following years. These were often filled with the tales of Rascal and his tricks, along with Tex and his broncos. Eventually Tex and his best friend had retired after many a rodeo to the San Joaquin Valley in California. Lucille thought for a moment longer as she stared off down the stretch of Lincoln Highway in front of her house. She could not remember exactly when the cards stopped coming, she said quietly, but she could always remember the sparkle in Tex’s eye as he and Rascal journeyed along on their next shared adventure.


While my drawing itself is inspired by the man and his dog I learned about one Sunday morning as I painted a pole, my artwork today is created for the upcoming Lincoln Highway Association Conference in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

As Lucille finished up, I thanked her for the story of the clown, his canine partner, and his journeys along this road that had so much history of its own. As I climbed back up my ladder, I thought on how my own contribution to the Great Road might one day add to the story of another person as they journeyed out from Ogden to the west along a gravel road untouched by time.

Now that my pole painting years have passed, I often think back to those Sunday mornings I spent up on a ladder in those early years of the Lincoln Highway Association. As much as I recall the paint and my measuring license plate, I also remember the many different characters I met while making my own contribution to the Great Road itself. That was the thing about painting those poles alongside the Lincoln Highway. I never knew what stories might emerge from the characters who came out to greet me as I spent the hour and a half painting the logo on each one. While the stories varied from tales of their own experiences on the Lincoln Highway to just interesting memories from early days in their family history, each individual I had the fortune to meet contributed to my stories made alongside the Lincoln Highway.

Ty Casotti and a young Lincoln Highway Johnny

I was also fortunate to have a partner in those early days who found his way up a ladder to paint the red, white, and blue logo of the Lincoln Highway alongside me. Ty Casotti was another founding member of the Lincoln Highway Association and shared in my passion for artwork and history. He was my painting partner and friend for many years and his contribution to the Great Road will always be remembered. I lost my pole painting partner in the later 1990s to a form of cancer. I often find myself thinking back and missing my fellow painter and friend dearly. This story is in his honor and in honor of those founding members who dedicated much of their free time and even more of their energy to the rebirth of the Lincoln Highway.

From the Open Road, 

Lincoln Highway Johnny

Louver It

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

As you have seen from my previous tales, you meet many an interesting character while traveling this great nation of ours. Today I am here to tell you about another one of these fellow travelers, Mr. Nick Gentry and his Louver Machine.

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I first had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Gentry at a car show in Jefferson, Iowa, where he was driving a fine machine he had fashioned himself, a traditional-built hod rod Ford pickup. While looking over this well-made vehicle, I noted that his hood had louvers and asked him about where he had these put in. Mr. Gentry then informed me that these louvers were his own handiwork, and he had the pleasure of owning his own machine. As we continued speaking, I asked him if he would be interested in adding louvers to one of my own hot rods, the hood for my 1951 Chevy Sports Coupe.

After agreeing to my request, I transported myself and my hood to Rockwell City, Iowa, where Mr. Gentry kept his own shop and his louver machine. Once there, I had the pleasure to meet the man who imparted some of his knowledge to Nick, his father, Dale Gentry. I spent the afternoon in their company, learning more about the Gentry shop and the other body shop he worked for in town.

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A little ways down the road, I saw Mr. Gentry and his machine again at one of my favorite stops I have previously written about, Torque Fest. Nick greeted me as an old friend, and I watched as he took the hoods and other articles from ready-paying patrons and added louvers to it all.

If you are ever in need of a new hole and happen to be by the North-Central Iowa town of Rockwell City, stop by and say hi to Nick while he adds a louver or two.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

A Return to My Old Stomping Grounds

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

As I find myself journeying along the open road, I find myself thinking back to my younger days and my early inspirations. As a young traveler, I went to school in the small central California towns of Shingle Springs and El Dorado, and later Placerville. Placerville, California provided an easy setting for my young imagination to take me back in time to the early days of the gold rush in 1849. Back in my younger years, the late 1960s, time and population had not yet found its way to the area. Nowadays, the population has grown and much of that mystical setting I admired in my early years has now faded into the past.

In those years, I had not yet learned of the Lincoln Highway, but as the fates would have it, my family resided up the hill from the original Highway. Often my friends and I would journey down the road to the local shops and visit the ice cream parlor for a cool treat. In front of this haunt was an original Lincoln Highway marker, where we would hang our coats, not knowing the history it represented. Placerville had another marker that had been encased into one of the shops along the road. These days the shop from my past is long gone, having been replaced by a place to find a quick bite to eat.

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As you are aware, I have always been drawn to the tales of local history. This was no different in those young years, when my journeys led me to pick up a book with photos showing how the places I enjoyed everyday looked in the time of my imaginings. While we cannot journey back to those days, the pictures and stories shared allow a glimpse of that bygone time when gold was just being found in the hills and valleys of California.

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One of my favorite towns in this area is Coloma, California, which you will find along Highway 49. History runs deep in this small town, as it is the location where gold was first discovered in California at Sutter’s Mill. As a young traveler, I enjoyed the field trips and outings to the old area, running wild amidst the historical buildings and museums.

One such building was Bell’s Store. Robert Bell, the store owner, established this beautiful brick building, displaying the wares of the day out in front. Bell’s Store was one of the first buildings put up after the Fire of 1856 which had destroyed much of the structures in this small town. A few years I painted a likeness of Bell’s Store, using acrylics on redwood, to showcase the lasting beauty of my favorite building in the area.

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Even though the years have passed and my journeys have led me far away, I will always remember the settings of Placerville and beyond that inspired my young mind. As a miner ever seeks gold in the next big strike, I ever seek out adventure on the next road.

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From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

Cruising the Mother Road and Beyond

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

As I ventured along the Mother Road herself, Route 66, in Arizona, I found myself thinking of how this particular stretch is a tourist’s delight. Along the Route, you will find a bit of everything, from unique curio shops to many historical sites. Each town along the way gives Route 66 its own twist, which provides something for every person to enjoy. The stops draw the traveler in, inviting them to take a rest, enjoy a different part of the road’s history, and lessen the weight of their wallet along the way. While I try to avoid that last one, I thoroughly enjoy experiencing these different twists and appreciate how each town creates the atmosphere that keeps tourists coming back and experiencing the history of Route 66.

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After exploring the many unique sights along Route 66, my destination came in sight. My journey along the Mother Road lead me to Jerome, Arizona, which can be found in the mountains to the southwest of Flagstaff. Like the Route itself, Jerome is filled with many unique shops and experiences, but truly is for those brave tourists who wish to experience a little of the days gone by. Jerome provides an Old West adventure in the form of a living ghost town, providing visitors with a glimpse into the past.

While in Jerome, if you venture past the fire station and journey down a long, skinny road, you will find yourself in the area previously known as Haynes, Arizona. About 30 years ago, a fellow Iowan by the name Don Robertson moved down to the area and created the historical complex known as the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town. I often wanted to venture out on this journey in years prior and meet Mr. Robertson, but I sadly was not able make the trip out until this past year. Although Mr. Robertson has journeyed on down the long road, his collection and work lives on, providing a glimpse into the past for folks like myself to enjoy for the years to come.

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Whenever you find the need to get your kicks on Route 66, be sure to journey on down the Mother Road and bring along a friend, like my buddy in the drawing below, to enjoy the different twists along the way. Once you find yourself near Flagstaff, take a quick turn down to Jerome and to Mr. Robertson’s place and explore the many items he collected along his own journey. I guarantee that no matter where you find yourself as you journey along the great Route 66, the history of the road and the area will rise to meet you.

bullet hole special

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

 

Road Trip to the Past

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

As you are well-aware, most of my works come from my trips along the open road or from my own history. However, another part of my journeys include reenacting history itself, in particular that war that set brother against brother, the Civil War.

Early in the fall each year, our group of Civil War reenactors, the Army of the Southwest, engage in a reenactment in Corydon, Iowa. This small town is located in Southeast Iowa on Highway 2. Now most towns in this area of my great state are farm-based communities, with a low population in the town itself. This reenactment takes places in the picturesque setting of the local park, with beautiful trees, a rolling landscape, and a quaint lake.

As a reenactor, I often vary between acting as a soldier for North or the South during our battles. When we are back camp-side, I take on a different role as a war correspondent. However, many of my fellow reenactors maintain their role as a solider while relaxing by the fires, which often inspires my art. I quickly sketched out the work below during this most recent event.

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As the weather this year during our reenactment was not as inviting as years before, I decided to journey down the road about six miles to one of those other small towns, Allerton, Iowa. Now I happened across Allerton during a class reunion of sorts, which seemed to include former students from all the past graduating years. This reunion has a parade, a luncheon at the fire station, and activities to celebrate across the businesses in the community. I was fortunate enough to find a room at the Inn of the Six-Toed Cat, the local, and only, bed and breakfast in town. Now while I could regale you with the story behind this unique name, it is better coming from the cat’s mouth itself: Story of the InnSix-Toed Cat

As I sat on the porch, enjoying the scenes of this old, unique inn, I took in the stormy weather around me. This weather did not seem to dampen the celebrations around the town, as I heard the sounds of folks coming together to share their heritage. Most years, as a part of the reunion celebrations, the Inn hosts a dinner with General Ulysses S. Grant. However, General Grant was unavailable this year, so in order to substitute for the man himself, I created the work below. 20171217_154031

If you ever find yourself looking to embrace some local culture in Southeast Iowa, take a rest in Allerton and perhaps General Grant or a six-toed cat may stop by to make your visit as memorable as my own.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny