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

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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

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