Reclaiming the Past from the Wild – The Black and Orange Garage Camp Cabins

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

Over the years, I have seen many a place along the Lincoln Highway that has been left to the wilds that surround it. From the concrete bridges that spanned the shallow creeks of the countryside to the many motels and cabins where weary travelers found a place to rest for the night, there is no structure built by man that is secured against the passage of time once it has been left to its own fate.

As I made my way across the great state of Wyoming many a year ago, I happened upon some old cabins next to Fort Bridger. As I observed the faded orange wooden siding and the sloping rooftops, I felt that twinge of sadness I so often find when I see these once loved places falling into disrepair. As I left to go on to the historic Fort Bridger itself, I made sure to mark the location so I could visit these former rest spots once again. Every time I found myself in that area of the Great Road, I visited these cabins and wished that there would be some character to come along and restore the buildings and grounds before nature had completely reclaimed the territory.

It was much to my delight to learn that back in 2009, just a character came along. These cabins, named the Black and Orange Garage Camp Cabins, were being restored to their former glory by the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, with a member of Lincoln Highway Association, Todd Thibodeau, being the force of change for these historic furnishings. The restoration itself was done beautifully, as the crew behind the work was able to use at least ninety percent of the original materials and structures.

The structures themselves look much like they originally did when a traveler along the Lincoln Highway would come to stay the night, with each cabin featuring its own garage for those early automobiles. This was quite the feature for the time when these cabins were in their heydays from the early 1920s until 1936, when the Great Depression found its way down the road to this area of the country. While these restored cabins are not open for a current traveler to rest his tired bones from the road, they are open for any character who wishes to take a trip back in time to see how the accommodations of the past compare to those of today.

On a side note, I did see a reproduced concrete Lincoln Highway marker along the road there by the cabins some years ago. As it often happens, the featured medallion with the face of the president the road is named after was missing. I have not yet had my own opportunity to venture back to see the restored cabins in their current state, but I do hope that the missing medallion has also been restored to its home.

A glimpse back in time to how the Black and Orange Garage Camp Cabins looked in their prime.
Artwork created for the upcoming Lincoln Highway Association 2019 Conference
in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

If you find yourself journeying along the Lincoln Highway through western Wyoming, take a moment and visit the Black and Orange Garage Camp Cabins and the grounds of Fort Bridger itself. As you walk through those restored beauties, think back to the not too distant past when the wilds had reclaimed this area for its own. I can only hope that other historic sites will be as fortunate as this and will find some character to come along and bring the past back to life.

From the Open Road, 

Lincoln Highway Johnny

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Mom & Pop’s and One-Stop Shops – A Service for the Weary Traveler

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

While on one of my recent journeys in Central Missouri, heading to the great river of Mark Twain, I happened across a quaint, rare piece of our nation’s past. This treasure was called a “One-Stop,” a place for the weary traveler to rest, have a bite to eat, and clean off after a long day on the road. This particular One-Stop is located on Highway 36, just to the east of Meadville in Missouri. As I viewed this historic site, I had to wonder why this One-Stop was here, when the larger town of Chillicothe was just a drive to the west. However, as I continued heading toward the Great Mississippi River, I found my answer as I found myself surrounded by Pershing State Park. Thanks to the interest of a fellow traveler like myself, this unique glimpse into the past has stood the test of the ages and continues to serve as a reminder of the bygone years.

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Unlike the One-Stop of above, one of my favorite stops along the Great Road no longer exists. Many years ago, as I was traveling west on the Lincoln Highway, I found a reminder of the bygone era, a Mom & Pop’s cafe. As we were to the east of North Platte, the cafe had been named the North Platte Cafe and would have been a perfect stop for a bite to eat for the weary traveler.

Now these cafes not only served the travelers, but also their surrounding communities. Folks would gather on a certain night of the week, meet up with their neighbors, and escape the demands of the kitchen for at least a little while. Unfortunately this little cafe went the way of many other old stops along the road, but you can take a look here and glimpse how this relic looked back when I beheld it for the first time.

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My fellow travelers, while you find yourself out on the open road, make sure to take a look around as you never know what relic may show up along the way. As with the cafe above, sometimes if you stop and stay a while, you may even still smell the chicken frying for the folks to gather for dinner.

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.

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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

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

 

Torque Fest 2017

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

The open road has been a bumpy one of late, which delayed some of my travels.  But I have returned and would like to talk about an “Alternative Style” car show I visited over the last weekend.

Near the Mississippi River in the Eastern Iowa town of Dubuque, Torque Fest happens every year.  I have been attending this event every year since its inception, where it started in Farley, IA and moved around until it landed finally in Dubuque.  Torque Fest is a celebration of the early creation of the American Hot Rod and all the culture that comes with it. While traversing the grounds, Bettys are plenty with rock-a-billy setting the soundtrack to the day.  The word of event is No-Billet, meaning no fancy bells and whistles.

john wells touqe festMost of the proceeds of the event go to a medical fund called Helping Hannah, who is the daughter of the founder, Mr. John Wells.  Mr. Wells, the featured man in my drawing today, founded this fest.  When I first met him, he was a purveyor of classic car films, using those funds to help his daughter.  Now he has graduated to hosting Torque Fest once a year and Iron Invasion, a car show much the same as this event, in Woolstock, IL.

This show has a flavor for all tastes, with old time races ranging from automobiles to motorcycles to chain races, to a swap meet where you can find treasures from a bygone era.  Every year in the early days of May, Torque Fest roars and rocks into Iowa, so if you should ever find yourself on the ol’ Mississippi during that time of the year, stop by and find out what this celebration of the past can give to you.

So thank you, Mr. John Wells for another successful celebration.  The cars and the Bettys were a sight for sore eyes, with the weather and the soundtrack setting the atmosphere needed to celebrate the contraptions inspired by the past.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

To learn more about Torque Fest, visit Vintage Torque Fest.

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

 

Hobart Brown and Kinetic Art

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

Hobart 2

I would like to introduce you to Mr. Hobart Brown, the Glorious Founder of the Kinetic Sculpture Races in Northern California (and beyond) which, to this day, starts in Arcata, CA and ends in Ferndale, CA.

Hobart Brown

I met Hobart back in the late 70s while I was studying at the College of the Redwoods in the Art Program.  Hobart had an art gallery in Ferndale, CA, full of his specialty, metal sculptures. His biggest activity was the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which involves large moving works of art that must be hand or food operated only and must be capable of going over a variety of terrain.

I befriended Hobart and went to many of his art openings on Friday nights over the course of two years.  He was kind enough to let college students bring one piece of art to showcase on those nights. These gatherings were often similar to costume parties or masquerades.

The last time I visited with Hobart, he was plagued as many of us are by the ailments of age, with severe rheumatoid arthritis affecting him.  However, he kept in good spirits, focusing on his work to keep him going. Unfortunately, the world lost Hobart in 2007.  However, his legacy lives on around the world through the many kinetic sculpture races that occur every year and through the artwork he leaves behind.

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Lincoln Highway Johnny presenting his artwork to a fellow Kinetic enthusiast at the Kinetic Sculpture Museum in Eureka, CA.

The drawing above is a tribute to Hobart and his creation, the Original People Powered Bus:

From the Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

If you would like to learn more about the museum, please visit Kinetic Sculpture Museum, and to learn more about the races Hobart inspired, please visit Kinetic Universe and Wiki of Kinetic Races.