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.

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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

Pringle’s Jalopy for Lefty’s Truck – A History of Dirt Tracks in Iowa

Greetings Fellow Travelers,

I bring to you a story of a fellow lover of the old days, who celebrates those vehicles built for speed and the dirt track of days gone by and, though not as common, days still to come. While I do enjoy the open road, I certainly respect the desire of Mr. Marty Pringle to keep these jalopies around.

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Marty Pringle and his Dad’s original dirt track racer

I first met Mr. Marty Pringle when he stopped by my own hamlet, Boomtown, Iowa. While I showed him around my many relics, his eye lingered on an antique gas pump. While I do not often part with my pumps, Mr. Pringle offered me a 1950’s standing Coca-Cola machine as a trade. After a moment, I agreed to part with my gas pump and looked forward to the trade to come. This would not be our only trade, as we would soon both discover in the near future.

A short time down the road, I was lucky enough to find a pristine 1938 One-Ton International Truck. Not only was the condition of this truck, which had been in storage for over 35 years, an amazing find, the history was a tale to discover as well. This truck had owned by the legend himself, Mr. Richard “Lefty” Robinson, an Iowa native who raced the dirt tracks of the past. While he and his family were promoters of the dirt, his daughter, Shauna Robinson, became a fan of the pavement and raced with NASCAR for many years.

Now this truck had been used by Lefty for his used truck and equipment business located in the capital of Iowa itself, Des Moines. I knew I could not pass up the opportunity to own this beautiful vehicle, and, as the folks who owned it were ready to part with it to a good home, I hired a gentleman to bring this International over to Boomtown. This driver very much enjoyed the look of the truck, and as a dirt track lover, I allowed him to take a photo of it and post it on the worldwide web. I soon learned that there were plenty of folks out there who wanted to own this piece of Iowa racing history, including my old trade partner, Mr. Marty Pringle.

Eight months later, it was my turn to be ready to offer a trade, as I was looking for a new home for Lefty’s truck. While I did consider a few other locations, I decided to head up to Otho, Iowa and talk to Mr. Pringle first. After a bit of conversation, we agreed that Marty would head over to look over the truck and, if it was in the cards, he would bring the International to his own museum the Iowa Hall of Fame and Racing.

As soon as Mr. Pringle looked over the truck, I knew it was time to make our second trade. I offered to give Marty the International if he would be willing to part with one of his prize racing jalopies, which still race around the track to this day. After a pause, Mr. Pringle accepted my terms and our second trade was set. A few weeks later, Mr. Pringle brought down the 7UP racing jalopy and took back this relic of an Iowa dirt track racing icon.

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Mr. Marty Pringle and the 7UP jalopy, built in the memory of his uncle

The International Truck is currently on a rotating display, currently visiting the Knoxville Racing Museum in Knoxville, Iowa. If you care to take a peek at a piece of racing and Iowa history, stop on by Knoxville, or better yet, visit Mr. Pringle up in Otho, Iowa at the Iowa Hall of Fame and Racing Museum.

From the Open Road,

Lincoln Highway Johnny

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

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