A Legacy to be Remembered

Greeting Fellow Travelers,

On my journeys, I have discovered many things. From discovering facts one would not other find to my own roots, I have learned how to meet the hills and valleys of this open road as they have come. However, I must now reflect, as nothing along my way could have prepared me for my next new experience.

Rosemary Fitzsimmons was my mother. She was a woman like no other, and while I tend to enjoy looking on the bright side of this road, I must now reflect back as my mother has gone on to join my father on the great journey beyond. It would not be incorrect to say that I would not be the Lincoln Highway Johnny I am now without her. She was not one for epitaphs, so instead, I will relate a contribution and legacy she gave to the Road itself.

In your travels, you may see the Lincoln Highway Boy Scouts. Though these shy boys tend to face away from the weary traveller, they certainly draw a crowd. Rosemary created these two life-size kids back in 1993 for a conference in Ames, IA. She named the boys Pete and Repete, though I must admit she never revealed which one each was. These little fellows have made appearances at more events than I can count, each a memory to those who met the young lads.

20170714_131727Now my mother, Rosemary, and my father, Glenn, made the long trek from my original state of California to my home state of Iowa with these boys. Often while traveling that way on their maiden voyage, they would put on them in the front seat so they could experience the great Road as well. Well, more times than not, other travelers would honk and wave at these young vagabonds, encouraging their travels and embracing those of the younger years on their own journeys across this great nation. If you would like to say hello to one of these fearless travelers, stop by the museum in Grand Junction, Iowa.

While I am certain my mom would not want much ado, I would be grateful if you would spare a quick thought for her. She was a true artist and one of the most generous persons I have had the privilege to meet. While I hope the day is far off for myself, I wish the best and God Speed to this amazing woman who I was lucky enough to call Mom.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

Another One in the Books

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

Just a few weeks ago, the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association, for which, as you all know, I am the Artist-in-Residence, hosted another successful national conference in Denison, Iowa.  This is the third time we have had the honor of hosting this conference here in the state I call home.

The first national conference we hosted was in 1994 in Ames, Iowa. The organization was a young thing, with this being the second ever national Lincoln Highway Association conference.  Despite our early fears, the conference was a roaring success and set the stage for the many national conferences to come.

The conferences rotate through the 13 states of the Highway every year. As the years went by, we in Iowa had our second chance to hold the conference ten years later in 2004. This conference, lovingly called “Out of the Mud,” was hosted in Cedar Rapids, at Coe College.   We not only pulled “out of the mud,” we roared out and held yet another successful event.

This now brings our journey up to today. In the late days of June, we had our third national conference. This time around, we chose to host the conference on the western side of the state, in the town of Denison in Crawford County. Now this county holds a special place in my own story, as if you recall from one of my earlier tales, my grandpa and many more came from Crawford County.

During the conference, we visited many local haunts along the road, including a theater named after a little known lady, Ms. Donna Reed.  Here we enjoyed some old shows and spent a little time out of the heat.  As I stepped back out into the light, I was spotted by Mr. Gordon Wolf of the Denison Review. As I recounted some of my journeys along the open road, Mr. Wolf transcribed them for you to read below:

“Denison has been host to a number of Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) members this week who are in town for the national conference. For some of the visitors, the stay in Denison is akin to a homecoming. Their roots are planted in the historic coast-to-coast highway and are also tapped into the community…LHJ 1

…John Fitzsimmons is a great storyteller. A founding LHA member when he was 32, John is from Boone, via Eureka, California. He grew up in Placerville, California, which is also on the Lincoln Highway.

As the artist in residence for the LHA, he is known as “Lincoln Highway Johnny.” He creates works of art about the Lincoln Highway, all for viewing, not for sale. A display of his work was at the Boulders Conference Center for this week’s national conference.

 

Another strong connection with the route is that John’s grandfather, Pat Fitzsimmons, helped build the Lincoln Highway.

“Back in 1992, everyone was excited about starting the Lincoln Highway Association,” he said. “But we had to find out where it was.”

The location of parts of the original route, dedicated on October 31, 1913, by the original Lincoln Highway Association, was unknown.

One of John’s jobs was to help paint the red, white and blue Lincoln Highway logo on telephone poles along the route. “I painted over 186 of them,” he said.

John can be distinguished from his fellow LHA members by the overalls and hat he wears, and the Lincoln Highway logos he painted on the toes of his shoes. He told how that came about.

 

He and a partner were painting the highway logo on telephone poles in Boone County in 1992. He was standing 10 feet up on a ladder, and a swirling wind was blowing the paint in circles. “I looked and had more paint on myself than on the pole,” he said.

LHJ shoes

“Then I looked down and saw there wasn’t a drop of paint on my shoes. So I said I would train the paint to make an “L” on my shoes.”

 

Like others, John has a connection not only with the Lincoln Highway but with Denison and Crawford County. He said his father, Glenn Fitzsimmons, and mother, Rosemary (Segebart), grew up in Vail and knew the Mullenger family – Reed’s family.

He said his aunt Beulah Davis worked for Heidi Mullenger, Reed’s sister, and his mother knew Reed’s brother.

 

His mother and father moved to California in 1953. His father died three years ago at age 89. His mother is 82 and lives in Eureka.

This week, John called his mother and said, “Guess where I am. At Cronk’s.”

In her youth, his mother often stopped at Cronk’s after roller skating outings. “She said they had the best burgers,” said John. In addition, his mother’s cousin worked at Cronk’s.

For John the association is not only about preserving the history of the historic route but is also about the people. “I like attending the conference because I see people I don’t get to see all the time” said John.

But he can’t attend every national conference. He last attended one in 2013 in Kearney, Nebraska. He wanted to but was unable to attend last year’s conference in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; he is a civil war reenactor.

“Every year we are losing members and are losing fine workers,” John said. “I want to see them.

 

“Everybody loves the road and the history,” he added.

 

“There’s something about the Lincoln Highway, but it’s not just about the concrete. It’s about what’s along the highway – the buildings and the heritage.”

To read more of about the conference as told by Mr. Gordon Wolf, head on over to Denison Lincoln Highway Conference.

As I told Mr. Wolf, the best part of these conferences is seeing my long time fellow travelers over the years. However, as with most things in this life, the best is followed by the worst, as we miss those who have journeyed along the path we all eventually must follow.

If you find yourself heading east along the road next year, stop by New Jersey, where the 2018 national conference will be hosted.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

 

Indian Scout

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

By now we know I am a fan of things on four wheels, but I have been known to cut down to just two.  I like anything of the bygone era, especially when related to transportation.

Today, I bring you a picture of a Native American who was a horse wrangler for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, sitting atop of an Indian motorcycle.  How do I know this?  My grandpa, who you all have met, knew him and worked with the man behind the inspiration as a wrangler as well.

Best Indian

Pat Fitzsimmons, to me, Grandpa Pat, was a shirttail relative of Buffalo Bill Cody. His sister was married to Ed Cody, Buffalo Bill’s half-brother.  Pat befriended Buffalo Bill, who asked him if he wanted to join up with the show and participate.  My Grandpa decided to help by wrangling the horses and livestock for the show.

As a young man, Grandpa traveled to many different states with the show, curious about new places and new experiences.  By this point in the story of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the show stayed in the mainland of the good ol’ USA and did not travel abroad as it once had.  My grandpa told me of a story of a Native American who worked as a fellow wrangler.  As he had a form of dwarfism, he stayed behind the scenes.  Grandpa always said the Indian’s facial features were stoic and reminded him more of a Native American Chief than some of the other Indians who were in the show. This fellow told my grandpa that he was saving his hard earned money up to buy a motorcycle, an Indian Scout.  To this, my Grandpa replied earnestly that he figured he would have one someday soon.

Several years down the road, after Grandpa had left the show, and went back to farming and ranching in Vail, IA, he took a trip to Omaha with his cattle.  During this trip, he came upon a rare sight, an Indian riding an Indian motorcycle.  The man on the motorcycle recognized Pat and pulled alongside, stating triumphantly that he had bought his Scout.  They shared the rest of the afternoon, talking of old times and enjoying a few brews.

This picture is dedicated to Grandpa’s friend and his accomplished dream of an Indian Scout motorcycle.

From the Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

 

It Runs in the Family

Greetings, one more time today, Fellow Travelers,

Lincoln Hwy Near Vail IA

The picture above was taken around 1913 near Vail, IA.  The fellow standing tall in the air, on top of his road grader, is none other than my own grandpa, Pat Fitzsimmons.  Pat and his crew of cousins began carving out and smoothing the roadway for the Lincoln Highway, starting their section in Missouri Valley, IA, next to the Missouri River, and working their way to Vail, IA.

Missouri Valley to Vail

 

Now, as the Google Maps image shows, it would take an average person about 17 hours just to walk that distance.  If you add in horses, grading the road, and the Iowa summer heat, this would have taken quite some time over the years.

As you can see, the Lincoln Highway runs in my blood from the beginnings of this great road and will continue to be reflected in my art and my narratives for many years to come.

From the Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny