September 2005


In September we continued our return from Alaska by driving from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada to Du Quoin, Illinois. 

The beginning of September found us heading for the US border, with an overnight stop at WalMart in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  As is usually the case at WalMart, we paid for our ‘free’ camping by buying groceries.  Our last night in Canada was spent at a small city park in Morris, Manitoba, about 25 miles from the border.

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Always feels good to return to the United States

The border crossing back into the US was uneventful – we spent more time waiting in line for a free lane than the time it took to clear Customs.  Back in the Lower 48 at last!

We then spent the next eight days staying at the military campground at Grand Forks Air Force Base, near Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Other than the occasional free camping we find, this turned out to be our best ever bargain.  After using Larry’s Golden Access passport to get 50% off the nightly rates, we only spent $6.00 a night for full hookups, 50-amp service and cable TV – it doesn’t get much better than that!  The campground is located on a former trailer park site so it is nicely laid out, wide-open spaces, and lots of biking and walking paths.  Besides the dozen or so rigs parked there, we had lots of prairie dogs that entertained Shelley.

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While the base was quiet, it was not without danger.  These critters had burrows everywhere just waiting to trip the unwary person or dog!

During our entire stay at the air force base, we never heard a plane or helicopter yet we were parked near the end of the runway.  We found out that the runway is currently being repaired and all flight traffic has been diverted elsewhere.  They normally have the KC-135 planes, the beasts that refuel planes in the air, flying in and out non-stop, so we were thankful for the quiet.

While in the area, we got our truck’s windshield replaced.   The entire process took only about three hours and the insurance company picked up the entire bill – painless!

Now that we were back in the Lower 48, we pulled out our well-read copy of Watch It Made in the U.S.A. to see what factory tours were nearby.  A short drive away is Arctic Cat, located in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.  Arctic Cat manufactures snowmobiles and ATVs (all terrain vehicles), which account for about one third of their business.  Words can hardly describe all the activity we saw during our tour but unfortunately, cameras are not allowed.  The factory was busy working on this year’s snowmobile models.  When those orders are filled, the employees either switch to the always-busy ATV line or take a temporary layoff.  No space is wasted – looking up you will see lines hanging with parts on their way to the paint room as well as conveyor belts shuttling parts from one assembly area to the next – all done very efficiently.  There are a few robotic functions, primarily spot welding the chassis.  Our guide explained that when a worker is first hired, he or she is put on the line with an experienced employee for about a month.  If they can hang tough for that month, they are then hired as permanent workers.  The employees hustle!  We watched one crew effortlessly add the drive-trains to the snowmobiles.  By the time the tour was finished, we were pumped to go out and buy our own snowmobile or ATV!

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Web_DSCF0022.jpg (70975 bytes) It's hard to capture the wonder of the northern lights on a digital camera.  These images are a poor substitute for the real thing.

One morning Lucille woke up around 3:15 am and opened the window to see if it had cooled enough to turn off the air conditioning.  What a surprise to see the northern lights in North Dakota.  After waking Larry up, we went outside, braved the hungry mosquitoes, and were treated to a fantastic show of lights, the best we had seen so far.  The show was fabulous and spectacular – waving and swirling ribbons of light, some in different colors, all around us.  You could almost hear music accompanying the flowing lights.  It was a great show and unexpected and worth the skeeter bites.

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Faribault Woolen Mill starts with the raw material from around the world and produces the yarns and fibers to thread on the looms that produce the fine blankets and throws.  Old machinery is used along side computer controlled looms.

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In Faribault, Minnesota, we toured the Faribault Woolen Mill, in operation since 1865, with a daily production rate of more than 2,000 units with 14 looms and 162 employees.  It is the only fully vertical woolen mill left in the United States.   The mill provides all the functions to change raw wool into woven bed blankets – dyeing, carding, spinning, weaving, napping and finishing, all under one roof. People working there have pride in this fact and subsequently in their work.  A lot of the machinery is obsolete so they repair, over and over, what they have.  A unique piece of equipment was a single foot-pedal operated sewing machine that is used primarily to temporarily join two bolts of material together as they go through one of the many processes.  We watched a bolt of wool take shape as a Lewis and Clark commemorative throw.  Faribault private labels for Eddie Bauer, Lands End, and others as well as what they sell in their store.  You won’t find a Lands End labeled product for sale in the store but may find a second quality similar item at a much-reduced price.  We bought several wool stadium blankets at a good price as well as a washable lightweight wool blanket for us.

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The SPAM presents the story of SPAM in a tongue-in-cheek manner.  And that is Lucille in the photo and not one of the Hormel Girls.

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Our next tour was the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota.  The museum tells the story of the processed meat, SPAM, not the computerized junk mail we get inundated with.  As you enter, you are greeted by some of the friendliest and fun-loving staff around, and a wall display featuring 3,500 cans of SPAM.  They claim that if you eat one can a day from this display, it will feed you for almost ten years.   We continued on to learn the history of Hormel Foods, from the 1930s to the present; about the Hormel Girls who sang the praises of SPAM, helping to market the product in the process; how GIs ate a lot of SPAM during World War II; saw the 1970 Monty Python TV clip of Vikings singing “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM…”; and watched a video of the production process.  Our tour ended in the SPAM gift shop where the actual product in any one of its different varieties can be purchased as well as t-shirts, pens, caps and even wine glasses with the SPAM logo – now that’s class!

From there, we drove to Forest City, Iowa, home of the Winnebago plant.  Overnight RV parking is available at their visitor center but when we arrived, the lot was filled with motor homes awaiting service.  We found a nearby city park campground, right along the Winnebago River, where we stayed for a couple of days – a much prettier place to stay than a parking lot.  The following day we took the 1 pm tour of the Winnebago plant (photos were not allowed).  After watching a video of the manufacturing process, the guide drove us around their facilities – over 200 acres.  Winnebago produces the majority of its parts in-house.  Other buildings, not on the tour, are the metal stamping division, plastics facility, sawmill and cabinet shop, and sewing and design departments.  We stopped at “Big Bertha”, the world’s largest RV production plant, and observed motor homes being assembled from two different catwalks.  The motor homes in process creep down three 1,032-foot-long assembly lines at 21 inches per minute as workers along the lines install everything from the floor up to the finished roof.  It was fascinating watching the employees at work – the guide had to coax us back onto the bus.

Next stop was yet another tour, this time of the John Deere Tractor Assembly Operations in Waterloo, Iowa. After watching a video, we boarded a tram and learned more than we thought was possible about building John Deere tractors.  This is a huge assembly plant – over 45 acres between two buildings – thank goodness for the tram.  The two-hour tour, led by a company retiree, wound in and out of the plant where the heavy-duty four-wheel-drive tractors are assembled.  The tractor made here isn’t your grandfather’s tractor – these are high-tech, high dollar machines, designed with efficiency and comfort in mind for the operator.  John Deere’s products are sold all over the world.  In fact, some of the visitors on the tour were from Australia and Africa.  Again, photos were not allowed.

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Cedar Falls, Iowa preserved these buildings from the past.  They include an icehouse located along the river, an old filling station and a one room schoolhouse.

From Waterloo, we drove to sister-city Cedar Falls, Iowa, where we camped at the beautiful and peaceful Black Hawk County Park.  Miles of bike and walking trails, one of which leads two miles into town, surround the park. 

Bob and Darlene, RVers we met while there, were extremely helpful in suggesting places to eat and to shop.  One morning, we bought fresh veggies at a local produce stand.  On the way back, we stopped at the Family Herb Farm and had an informative tour of the herb gardens, getting to scratch and sniff a lot of the plants there. Some were recognizable, some new to us.  It was interesting to learn that catnip, which is a root, used to be given to people to chew on just before they were hanged.  It would numb their senses some.  Gruesome! 

One day we biked into town, had lunch at Toad’s, a bar and grill, based on Bob and Darlene’s recommendations, then finished the bike loop back to the campground for a total of about 9 miles—a nice easy ride.  Another day, we again biked into town and had lunch at Maid-Rite, (also recommended), a small luncheonette with bar stool seating only.  Maid-Rite, an Iowan institution since 1926 and in Cedar Falls since 1947, is known for its loose meat sandwiches – sort of like a Sloppy Joe filling without the sauce.  The hamburger meat is steamed and flavored with mild spices, then heaped onto a hamburger bun with whatever fixings you like.  We chose the standard mustard, ketchup, pickles and onions.  The waitress brings you a spoon to help scoop up the crumbled burger that slips out of the bun onto the burger wrapper.  It probably would have been a low-calorie, low-carb meal had we passed on the bun and the fries but we just couldn’t pass them up. 

We then continued on our ride, originally planned as a 14-mile bike ride, with a stop first in town for lunch, then picking up the Cedar River Valley Loop.  After lunch, we went in search of our trail and after several wrong turns, thanks to poor signage, we still couldn’t find the return portion of the loop.  We found half of it but not the return half, so we backtracked.   We ended up biking 21 miles, the most we had ever done in one stretch.  We both had sore butts by the time we got back to our campsite.  But the scenery along the way was spectacular and spotting a deer helped ease our ‘pain’.

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This museum in the middle of small town America has some of the rarest motorcycles you will ever see.  Included are a steam-cycle, antique Indians and a bike driven by Peter Fonda in the movie Easy Rider.

From Cedar Falls, we headed to the Amana Colonies with a side trip to the National Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, in Anamosa, Iowa.  We spent almost two hours looking at over a hundred motorcycles, mainly quite old, early 1900s, including old bicycles and antique riding toys.  We even saw a steam-powered motorcycle – looks like a hot seat for the driver and not too comfortable.  One of Steve McQueen’s favorite bikes was there as was the bike that Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider.  Well worth the stop.

A little history on the Amana Colonies located in Iowa—In 1714 in Germany, a religious awakening was underway – a strong, mutual belief that a prayerful relationship with the Lord would lead to a Godly life.  Advocating humility and piety expressed in simple worship, they believed that God may communicate to His followers through an inspired individual just as He did in the days of the Biblical prophets.  This individual, called an instrument, is regarded as a tool of God’s will through which God speaks directly to His people.  This belief is still the foundation of the Amana Church.  In Germany during the mid-1800s, one of these instruments, Christian Metz, looked for another home to escape the persecutions, excessive rents and taxes.  Metz and his followers originally bought land near Buffalo, New York but soon outgrew that community.  In 1855, they came to Iowa and built Amana, which means ‘to remain true’.  Five more villages were built – Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana and East Amana.  Homestead was purchased in 1861 and the community now owned 26,000 acres. 

Farming was the principal means of support but to meet the needs of the community and to produce goods for sale to outside markets, a calico works and two woolen mills were established, as well as craft shops, flour mills and lumber and brick yards.  These enterprises formed the economic base for communal life.

Daily, life revolved around worship, home, work and school.  The community had doctors, dentists and pharmacists to provide care to its residents.  Neighborhood kitchen houses staffed by women prepared all meals.  More than 50 communal kitchens in the seven villages fed 1,500 plus residents three meals daily, plus two coffee breaks.  Each village had its own meat shop, smokehouse, bakery, winery while gardens and orchards provided for all.   Residents attended worship or prayer services eleven times during the course of the week.

In 1932, due to economic pressures and dissatisfaction with the rigid communal system, Amana abandoned the communal way.  A profit-sharing joint stock corporation, the Amana Society, was formed.  The transformation, known as the Great Change, ended 80 years of communal tradition but opened doors of opportunity for Amana’s residents.  For the first time, Amana community members worked for wages, owned their own homes and businesses.  Following the Great Change, many new businesses, including Amana Appliances, were established. Today the Amana Society farms the land, owns a variety of businesses and the church remains a vital part of community life.

We visited the Amana Heritage Museum and bought a pass for all five of their sites located throughout the colonies.   The first site is the Heritage Museum, comprised of three 19th century buildings and a video presentation on Amana’s history.  There we learned that the colonists, who were still speaking German brought over in the 1700s, did not have a word for rhubarb, plentiful in that area.  They came up with ‘piestengle’ – translating to pie stalks – makes sense, doesn’t it? 

We also visited the Communal Kitchen and Cooper Shop in Middle Amana.  There a tour guide explained the daily routine of the only intact communal-era kitchen remaining in the Amanas.  In the Cooper Shop are tools and products of the cooper’s (barrel maker’s) trade.  We also visited the Communal Agricultural Museum where agricultural tools and implements tell the story of agriculture in communal Amana.  The Homestead Store Museum is a former general store, now serving as a museum interpreting the role of industry, commerce, and Amana’s relationship to the outside world.  

Our favorite stop within the heritage sites was the Amana Community Church in Homestead.  There we learned about the Amana religion then and now.  Our docent explained that there are no statues, pictures, or fancy windows in any of the churches.  You can walk into a church now and find it the same as it was in the 1800s.  Women sit on one side with the youngest in the front rows, oldest in the rear.  We commented that we thought that the oldest should be up front because hearing seems to get worse with more birthdays and she agreed.  There are no priests or pastors and no longer any ‘instruments’, as was Christian Metz.  Several people agree to preach, based on their knowledge of the religion, reading from the Bible and teachings written by instruments.  Women and men can do this and they sit facing the rest of the congregation.  Lucille asked if the women had to sit on one side only and our docent explained that seating here is arranged by seniority and on which side of the river they live.  Women also wear a cap, an apron and a shawl, so that all appear the same in the eyes of the Lord.  However, as times change, this tradition is going away.  She told us that none of the children wear this outfit but several of the older churchwomen continue to uphold the tradition.  Services are also held in German but as their teachings are being translated into English, German will eventually be phased out. The church isn’t growing because some of the younger people are moving out of the area.  The Amana Church is not found anywhere else in the world, just in this part of Iowa. 

We celebrated Larry’s birthday by enjoying a family style breakfast at the Colony Inn.  There is no breakfast menu but food is plentiful.  First we had juice, tea, coffee and/or milk, and a bottomless fruit bowl filled with freshly prepared chunks of fruit.  Following that were Amish pancakes that resemble crepes but are a little thicker and pan fried potatoes.  Next course was eggs cooked over easy with several strips of bacon and sausage patties made at the Amana Smokehouse.  Almost forgot the English muffin toast!  We could have had as many portions of any of the meal had we had room for more than what they served.  As it was, we finished most of what was served and waddled out of there.  A great meal but not something we could do too often. 

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The Amana Woolen Mill featured unique blankets made on site.

After breakfast, we walked over to the Amana Woolen Mill and watched blankets being made at Iowa’s only operating woolen mill.  This operation is considerably smaller than Faribault seen earlier this month but the equipment was familiar.  We also visited several of the wine shops and purchased several bottles of a good red wine – a dry cranberry.

Our last factory tour in Iowa was the Krauss Furniture Shop in South Amana.  They are 5th generation makers of quality handcrafted and custom-built furniture and clocks.  Unfortunately, we arrived during their lunch hour so we missed seeing the craftsmen at work but we enjoyed looking at the beautiful furniture and clocks in the showroom.  We lucked out and were in the clock room at noon when grandfather and other clocks all chimed.  Beautiful workmanship.

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DSCF0025.jpg (48030 bytes) The Mini-Americana Barn Museum features scaled miniatures with incredible detail.

The Mini-Americana Barn Museum, located in South Amana, is the largest known collection of miniatures in America created by one man, woodcrafter Henry Moore.  Henry Moore has built a unique world with dozens of buildings of historic interest, in the scale of one inch to the foot.  Major themes include pioneer Iowa farmsteads, small town Americana, Abraham Lincoln’s village of New Salem, IL, a California logging camp, an Indian village and a Louisiana sugar plantation.  “The small towns, the farms as they were and other scenes are going to a thing of the past before too long,” he explained.  “I just got caught up with it and decided this was one way to preserve some of the flavor of rural America.” Henry Moore passed on in 1983 but the tradition continues with his son.  The attention to detail is amazing.  It is so realistic you expect to see the figurines moving around, attending to their farms.

We like to stop at visitor centers located at the state lines and pick up brochures of places to visit in that state.  One of the brochures we found was of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum, located in West Branch, Iowa.   West Branch is right off of the interstate we traveled from Iowa to Illinois so it was a convenient stop and pleasant break.  This site is actually two stops in one.  The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is adjacent to the museum – one fee for both of them.

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DSCF0021.jpg (71310 bytes) The Hoover Library/Museum and National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

There is a self-guided walking tour of the historic site.  The path takes you by the 14 x 20 foot birthplace cottage, built in 1871; the blacksmith shop where Hoover learned the work ethic that prevailed in this community; a one-story frame schoolhouse; the Friends Meetinghouse which held services of silent meditation.

The presidential library-museum houses papers and collections relating to both President and Mrs. Hoover.  Both the Hoovers are buried on a hillside overlooking the cottage where he was born with simple stones of Vermont marble marking their gravesites.

Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer, making him a millionaire before age 40.  Having been raised in the Quaker tradition of being humane and generous to others, he embarked on a course of public service for the rest of his life.  His humanitarian efforts during and after World War I and service as Secretary of Commerce made him a highly respected figure, easily winning the Presidency in 1928.  However, the stock market collapsed in 1929, triggering a depression that forced his ideals into conflict.  He lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election. 

Also within the museum is a traveling exhibit – Under the Big Top:  The Circus in America.  Among other things, we saw memorabilia from Tom Thumb, P.T. Barnum and Clyde Beatty as well as from some famous clowns. 

Time to leave Iowa and meet up with Karen and Galen, with whom we had spent the summer in Kenai and with whom we’d be working at the Escapees’ Fall Escapade.  Galen is from the Galesburg, Illinois area and was visiting family there so we joined them at a nearby campground.  After getting set up, we had dinner at the Main Street Café in Knoxville, then went to Galen’s family’s home, meeting his brother John, sister Ardine and his mother.   We celebrated Larry’s birthday again, enjoying a dessert that Karen had made.

By this time, the area was getting rain generated by Hurricane Rita.  On the way to Du Quoin, Illinois, where the Fall Escapade was being held, we stopped overnight at the Salem Fairgrounds and nearly got stuck leaving the next morning due to saturated grounds.  We had heard that some of the Escapade staff reporting earlier to Du Quoin had gotten stuck on the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds so we were hoping for dryer weather and sounder ground.  We lucked out and were parked on solid ground overlooking one of the many lakes found at the fairgrounds. 

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The Du Quoin, Illinois Fairgrounds was the scene of the Fall Escapade for the Escapees RV Club.  Lucille and Karen sold donuts and muffins while Larry and Galen assured a continuous supply of hot coffee.

On Thursday, we attended a welcome meeting for all the staff as well as an appreciation dinner that evening.  After setting up and organizing our coffee and donut station on Friday morning, we helped stuff the goody bags to be handed out to all the Escapade attendees.  Over 1000 bags were stuffed and what could become tedious work was made fun by many helping hands with a sense of humor.  Saturday we hit the ground running and our routine and daily schedule remained the same throughout the following week.  At least one of us was on duty by 6 am every morning, starting the coffee, putting out the supplies, inventorying the donuts.  There were six of us staff members working Coffee and Donuts this year but the assistants (Karen, Galen, Larry & Lucille) primarily manned the station along with help from volunteers during the week.  The Coffee Chairman and his wife manned a second smaller station in a nearby building.  Usually by noon each day, we closed up shop with free time to take in any seminars or spend money at the RV markets set up on the fairgrounds. 

The week went by quickly.  We enjoyed seeing friends we’ve met on the road and making new friends.  Terry and Joan and Donna and Loren, whom we’d met at our Habitat build in Guyton, GA, were there, as were Bob and Helen and John and Noreta, from our Alpena, MI, Habitat build.  Shari was there, whom we’d met several years ago and with whom we’d enjoyed Christmas dinner last year.  We finally got to meet Norm and Linda Payne, whose website See Ya’ Down The Road we’ve followed for years and on which we patterned ours.  We’ll see them again in Nappanee, Indiana, when we are both there for warranty work on our Newmar RVs.  We also spent time with Russ and Freda, whom we’d met at last year’s Escapade, and they introduced us to their friends Charlie and Barbara.  And Bruce and Mary Sue, newly retired this year and enjoying their first Escapade; Bill and Kay (Kay is founder of the Pet Lovers group within the Escapees).  We hope to see new friends Tim and Carolyn as well as Lon and Carolyn again down the road. 

The rains came again toward the end of the week.  Several rigs parked in the infield were moved to higher ground just in time.  Around 11 pm Thursday evening, the local community treated us all to a surprise late night send-off.  A fire engine led the way, followed by the chief of police, the mayor and his family, and several others that live in the Du Quoin area.  Apparently, it is their custom to give everyone a thank you parade, with sirens blaring as they wind their way through the fairgrounds.  A nice gesture from Du Quoin’s citizens.

After the traditional hitch up breakfast that Friday morning, we took apart our coffee and donut station, cleaned and packed our equipment, then reluctantly said good-bye to Karen and Galen as we headed off in different directions.  It was a pleasure working with them during the Escapade.   As we all kidded, we had spent the summer together and we are still talking!

We drove all of twenty miles that day, the last day of September, to South Sandusky Campground, one of the Corps of Engineer campgrounds on Rend Lake.  Russ and Freda had stayed there prior to the Escapade, so we joined them (as well as Charlie and Barbara) for one night, giving us time to relax and unwind before heading to Indiana for our RV’s warranty appointment.  We have found Corps campgrounds to be very nice and this was no exception.  We would have liked to have spent more time exploring this beautiful lake and the surrounding area but alas, it will have to wait for another visit.

Next on our itinerary:

   Warranty work on the RV in Nappanee, Indiana

    Visiting family in Connecticut for a couple of weeks

    Renfro Valley, Kentucky to attend a music festival

    Camp hosting at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama

    Florida for the winter!


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