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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Unbelievable Endeavors that “Steel” Our Imagination

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

I have been along the Great Road many times in my journeys, traversing in all manners  of transport and even walking along it a few times. I have not, however, done anything quite like the story I bring to you today.

The Lincoln Highway runs along the heart of this great country from East to West, as you all are well aware. From San Francisco to New York City, the terrain is as varying as the people you meet along the long road, ranging from deserts to mountains to everything in between. Now back when the Great Road was new, there were many people who wanted to leave their imprint on the history of the road. Some people went for a long walk, others chose to grab a bicycle and set out. Now one gentleman, a Mr. Gustave Petzel, decided he wanted to stand out among these fellow travelers. In 1915, Mr. Petzel built himself a metal ball to roll from California to New York. This ball was four and a half feet in diameter, weighed 180 pounds, and made of steel. Gustave did do himself the favor of making it a hollow globe, with the steel rim measuring at a thickness a sixteenth of an inch . His goal was to make it to New York in six months time, where he would be rewarded with a thousand dollars from some folks in San Francisco.gus petzel with ball

While I have spoken before about the state of the Lincoln Highway in those early days, where parts of the road were little more than a nice dirt path. I do not know about you, but it is hard for me to imagine pushing a ball that large along not only along the nicer parts of the road, but up and then back down the Sierra Nevadas, the Rockies, and the Appalachians. After the mountains, Mr. Petzel would also have the joy of pushing that great steel globe across the open deserts and plains under the hot summer sun. One thousand dollars was a large amount back in 1915, but I cannot say whether that would be incentive enough for me to undertake such a journey.

Mr. Gustave Petzel set out with his great steel ball on June 3, 1915, with the goal to work his ball and his way along the road to arrive in New York in six months. While I have looked far and wide for more details of this impressive journey, I have not been able to find any word that Mr. Petzel accomplished his lofty goal. Whether the mountains, the ball or or the journey defeated his steely resolve, Mr Petzel disappears for a time to resurface with details of another attempt of crossing the country along the Lincoln Highway ten years later.

gus petzel with baby car

As we know, Gustave was quite the skilled craftsman after building that great steel ball. In 1925, Mr. Petzel decided to make his journey again, but since I would assume he had enough of large balls, he built himself a baby car, touted at the time as the “smallest car in the world.” Gustave and his four cylinder, 560 pound little car set out along the road, travelling the Lincoln Highway by way of Yosemite National Park. Instead of working his way along the Great Road, this time Mr. Petzel sold postcards to fund his trip. This trip was a successful one, as Mr. Petzel is recorded to have made his way to Washington, D.C. in February of 1926, where he showed off his baby car’s ability to go 52 miles on a single gallon of gas and speed up to 80mph.

Mr. Gustave Petzel was a fellow traveler who set his sights on leaving his name in the history of the Lincoln Highway. While I cannot say I would be one to make such a trip as his first attempt, I do admire his resolve to set out along that journey when the road was young.

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If you find yourself making the same journey one day, keep Mr. Petzel and his great globe in mind as you drive from the shining coast into the great mountains of our county. Perhaps you may even spot the ball somewhere along the way, maybe standing as relic along the road in the Truckee River.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

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

Iowa Blackie – The Beginning of an Adventure

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

Iowa Blackie was many things, but he was most certainly my friend. Although we had crossed paths many a time around my usual stomping grounds, we never had the opportunity to speak about our journeys. In 1999, the time finally came where I had the time to speak to this man who looked, for lack of a better phrase, as a street urchin who had grown into a true vagabond.

Best Blackie

My likeness of the Hobo Iowa Blackie

I spoke of my interest in the great road, the Lincoln Highway, and he spoke of his love of the original roads, the rails that cross this great nation of ours. As the conversation went on, it was no surprise to learn that we shared a love of history and of how folks traverse the vast open spaces of the country.

Now Iowa Blackie was born Richard Gage in Northern Iowa. When he was off the tracks, he called home a small house along his beloved railroad in New Hampton, Iowa. His first experience as a hobo happened when he left home at the young age of 13, when he walked out of the house, jumped a railcar, and rode to Oelwein, Iowa. As I am sure you would understand, Blackie’s parents were not too fond of this new hobby of his.

To add to the character he was, Blackie told me he was a Poet Laureate, writing poems about his life. He came often to my stomping grounds to print his books at the Sunstrom-Miller Press in Boone, IA, every year at Springtime. He also created a railroad trivia calendar and sold those to the masses for one dollar a piece. However, as the savvy businessman he was, any inquiry as to the price of the calendar always returned the answer of “Something more than a dollar, please.”

During that first meeting in 1999, I asked Iowa Blackie where he called home while he was travelling along the open road. He spoke to being grateful of finding anywhere along the way to rest his head, but it often boiled down to finding a place where he could take shelter from the unpredictable weather of the Midwest. Almost as soon as he related this to me, he asked if I had anywhere he could use to serve this purpose. Now as you know, there are very few times I am without words, but in response to this question, I found myself not knowing what to say as I looked on this vagabond of a man. As I recovered, I spoke to the fact that my home was out in the country and transportation might be an issue for him and his travels. Not to be deterred, Blackie spoke up to say that there would be no issue, for he had his trusty bicycle that could get him back and forth. Not seeing a bicycle in our near vicinity, I asked him where the bike could be found. His reply was that it was not here, but in the Bike Barn in Ogden, IA, a town 12 miles away from where we were currently standing, as that was where he left the bike during the cold Iowa winters.

Being somewhat of a big hearted sap at the time, I chose to take on this hobo. This decision led to what I call the Iowa Blackie years, which were five Springs and often Falls where this hobo became my tenant. As the decision was made, I began to realize I did not know where Blackie would reside. He could not stay in my home itself, as I was certain that the missus would show me the doghouse as my sleeping quarters. I offered the 16 passenger van I used in my long travels that featured a bed in the rear and he jumped at the idea before I could think twice. And with that, my adventures began with the legendary hobo, Iowa Blackie.

While I did regard Iowa Blackie as my friend, as I spoke to earlier, I quickly came to understand there was a reason you do not bring home wild animals or, in this circumstance, wild Hobos. This is only the introduction to my adventures, as I will relate further tales of Iowa Blackie and our journeys along the road and on my own piece of land.

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

 

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

 

A Journey into a Bullet-Ridden Past

Greetings from the open road.  Today I bring to you a relic from the bygone days of the Lincoln Highway in Nevada.

Now you may be wondering, why did ol’ Johnny post some pictures of a piece of cement?  I asked myself what this was back when I found it in 1978, on a unique road trip from Eureka, CA to Green River, WY.  This trip was to reenact the route of the early day fur traders who took this route on horses, which my buddy Wayne and I did in 1978.  This journey took us three and a half weeks just going the one direction, with a little “help” from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management in Salt Lake City).

This relic was found in a low-lying area, in between Ely and Eureka, Nevada on Highway 50.  We were travelling on the north side of the current US 50, on what seemed to be an old trail or maybe a remnant of the old Lincoln Highway. We stopped for the night, made camp, and fed and watered the horses and mule. After the animals were taken care of, I journeyed out to look for dried sagebrush to make a fire for the night.

I came upon this relic on my search for fire fuel.  I showed it to my buddy, Wayne, and we were intrigued by the bullets, the lead that was seemingly shot into it.  The stone itself seemed to be a large piece of soapstone, which is not common in Nevada. I stashed the relic alongside our camp to come back and get it at a later time.

After the rendezvous in Green River, Wyoming was over, and we sold away our transportation, I returned to my hiding spot and retrieved the relic.  Now, my mission was to find out what secrets this stone held.  I talked to several old timers in that area, from Ely and Eureka, to see if they had any input to what I had in my hand.

The only story I could get was… During the early days of travel, there was a lack of one distinct thing: firewood.  If the trail needed to be marked, journeymen would use stone structures to warn people of washouts and other road hazards.  If they were to use wooden road marks, travelers would cut them apart and use them for firewood, as that is what they needed, thus endangering fellow travelers along the way.  The old timers believed that this apparent piece of a road marker was most likely broken off from a taller structure.  One old timer told me he faintly remembered stones like this lining washes next to the road.

I asked about the bullets, which seem to be .32-.36 caliber lead, and learned it may have been a few different things, from seedy characters who passed by over the years or maybe a cowboy, practicing his target shooting.  Whatever the story of the bullets really is, it truly is a neat piece of Lincoln Highway history.

From the Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny