Travels in America: Madison County Iowa

My husband Joe and I have undertaken three trips to the United States, and have loved our travels there.? In the keeping with the holiday spirit as we all take a well earned break, I have brushed the dust off our blog written at the time (October 2014), removed excessive cussing and tidied up the grammar for Whaleoil readers.? This is part 5 of 7.

Day twenty ? Air Force Museum Dayton Ohio

The Comfort Suites are ideally placed for plane geeks wanting to go to the USAF museum ? they?re right on the perimeter track, so a quick 15-minute walk gets you to the entrance lobby. There were a few real & armchair aviators in the motel when we arrived for brekkie, easily spotted as they usually wear aircraft related clothing like t-shirts or caps (and I was no different with my RNZAF t-shirt!)

After brekkie, Deb dropped me off at the museum and basically, I start from one end and work my way down. The Museum?s collection is mostly housed in three huge hangars now, with two other hangars on the base itself (Wright-Patterson AFB) storing the ?Presidential? and ?Research and Development? collections. Only a few aircraft are stored outside now which is good as they will be maintained and preserved far better.

The hangars start with the early years ( pre and WWI) , moving onto preWW2 and WW2 then South East Asia , the Cold war and Korea. The collection is tremendous, with a huge range of aircraft to view. Unfortunately, the hangars are quite dimly lit, so photography is hard (a volunteer told me they do this to prevent deterioration of the exhibits) but that?s a minor gripe, the collection is amazing and many are exhibited in small dioramas and the like (for example showing servicing, or in one case a cadet having crashed a plane)

They have some huge aircraft in these hangars and it beggars belief they can fit them all in, but they do. Some of the biggest aircraft operated by the USAF are there, including the B-52, C-133 Cargomaster, C-124 Globemaster II and the B-36 peacemaker ? and not to exclude several 4 engined bombers and cargo aircraft.

I had a good few hours wandering amongst these aircraft, occasionally chatting with a volunteer, trying to take good photo?s (I took mostly bad ones) and about 11:45 I met up with Deb just in time for lunch. However while the USAF can put on a good museum, they can?t do lunch so we had a pretty indifferent salad (all salads were covered in grated and highly processed cheese!) and wrap.

As mentioned, there are two separate hangars that house the Research & Development and Presidential aircraft, so to get to see those one has to register with a photo ID ( I used my passport) ?and book to go across on the bus. I duly did this and my tour was at 1:30, so that would take us nicely to our ETD from Dayton.

Thus at 1:30 we all gather in an auditorium where we are given the rules (no photography or video of any kind, and no wanderin? off onto the base) and then jump on a bus to go across to these hangars.

These are just as good as the main selection and have some real gems in there, like the Boeing 707 that took JFK to Berlin where he gave his famous speech, and then carried his body to Washington with Lyndon Johnson being sworn in during the flight, or some of the most famous & unique experimental aircraft that pretty much paved the way for aviation today (and a few clunkers as well).

We had a happy hour there ? there are no barriers on the aircraft in these two hangars, unlike the main collection, so you can get right up close to the planes, but have to be careful you don?t spear yourself on a pitot tube or walk into a wing!

When that was over it was time to get on the road towards Winterset and the bridges of Madison county ? all in all I spent about 6 hours at the USAAF Museum and it was a fantastic place to visit. However despite wanting to buy something from the shop, I just could not decide as they had a great range of books and kits (and typically, all the books I wanted to buy were very large and heavy!) ? so discretion was the better part of valour and I left with photos and memories only.

We got started on the road and drove until about 8:30 pm (we gained an hour crossing from Eastern to Central time) when we decided to stop for the night at Galesburg. The drive was pretty good but lots of roadwork?s that occasionally slowed us down. Another pet peeve is truckies here will try & overtake each other, so one will move into the ?fast? lane (left-hand side) and then dribble and inch their way past the truck they?re trying to overtake! It?s hugely frustrating as it blocks both lanes for ages until they either get past or give up and slot back into the right-hand side!

Day Twenty one – Bridges of Madison County day

We had a quiet and uneventful night at Galesburg, a very average breakfast put on by the hotel and hit the road about 8:15 am.? The area was covered in pretty heavy fog, it was like pea soup (where did that expression come from, it?s neither green nor pea-shaped ?) for the first half an hour?s drive, but fortunately it burnt off pretty quickly and by 9 am it was plain sailing.? No issues with the four-hour drive to Winterset, however after a quick exit to top-up with petrol and use the loo, Dora did send us on a circuitous route back to the motorway, which she then seemed quite embarrassed about, and was pretty quiet for the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Winterset just after midday and headed straight for the North Side caf? for lunch.? This is the caf? that was used for filming during the movie The Bridges of Madison County.? Clint Eastwood apparently parked himself on the fourth stool from the doorway when he met Lucy Redfern by chance at the diner.? If you?ve never watched the movie you will have no idea what I?m talking about.? But that does not matter, what matters is they make an awesome range of pies.? Joe had Peanut Butter pie, and I had Pumpkin Cheesecake, topped with sugared pecans.? Both were delicious and not at all necessary for our already round tums, but we ate them anyway.

We waddled out of the caf? and decided to find some accommodation for the night.? The only motel in town, the Super 8 was fully booked, so we tried plan B which was a local B&B.? Heavenly Habitat was first on the list, so named because it is a converted church.? It?s a lovely little place filled with very nice furniture etc.? Accommodation sorted, we headed off to the first of the bridges in the area, the Holliwell bridge.? Alas there was a wedding in progress at the time, and the bride & bride and assembled guests were crowded at one end of the bridge and we couldn?t get a decent look in.? We drove around to the other end, but that wasn?t much good either.

Construction detail

We did meet a nice couple from Des Moines, who had lived there for many years and were on their very first visit to the bridges.? Des Moines is the nearest big city, only an hour?s drive away.? They told us it was unusually warm for this time of year (we were just wearing t-shirts, no long sleeves or outer tops required), and they often get snow settled on the ground from mid-November that lasts right through to the end of March.? By the way, the bridge is actually no longer in use, it has been replaced with a new roadway and modern bridge, so they are not used except as a tourist attraction, and sometimes wedding venue.

Roseman Bridge, from the movie The Covered Bridges of Madison County

Roseman Bridge was next on the list, similarly, this is no longer in use and has been replaced with a modern bridge.? We had better luck this time, no weddings in progress and while there were about a dozen other sight-seers like us, we did manage to get photos without other people cluttering them up.? Cedar Bridge was next, this one can still be driven over but that?s because it was burnt down by an arsonist back in 2002 and has been re-built.? Same style and methods used, but you can tell all the wood is new.

Of course, all of the bridges have had graffiti added, mostly of the ?Barbie loves Ken 1978? variety, and given it was a reproduction bridge rather than an original, and that we had travelled such a long way to see it, Joe decided he would add an inscription from us.? Which sounded like a great idea, until he dropped my pen and it fell through the wooden trusses on the side of the bridge onto the ground below.? Much hilarity ensued as he climbed under the bridge to retrieve it.? Unbelievable, he did actually find it again, and the inscription was completed.

Next bridge on the list was Hogback bridge.? Not one of the ones used during the filming, but I?d overheard someone say it was worth a visit, so off we went.? It was pretty spectacular and nicely reflected in the stream flowing underneath it.

Hogback Bridge, Madison County Iowa

All of these bridges had a tonne of flies swarming everywhere (we?re in farming country now) and tiny black bitey bugs that were having a good old feast on my arms.? I expected to end up covered in itchy welts, but so far so good, no reaction to them.? Maybe they just had really tickly feet, with no after-effects.?? By now it was about 5 o?clock, so we decided to head home and get changed to go out and find something to eat.? Not much on offer in the tiny town, so we ended up back at the North Side caf? for dinner as well.? At least they serve real food, we both had salads for dinner, washed down with a slice each of the super pumpkin cheesecake.? Too delicious to resist.? I think I?ve mentioned this before, but Halloween makes much more sense here.

In NZ, it seems a bit odd, like an excuse to bludge sweets off the neighbours, but here, it?s a whole big thing with weeks of build-up and decorations, and it?s as much about the change of season as anything else.? And part of the season are pumpkins, and pumpkins make delicious treats when baked into things like cheesecake.? Seriously good.

Iowa is crop country, and today we passed field after field of corn.? The land is mostly pretty flat, sometimes gently rolling, so it?s quite different from the tree-clad hills we saw in Pennsylvania.? And we are at the end of the autumn colours here, lots of the trees are bare already, and those still with leaves are mostly dark yellow or brown about to fall off.? Lots of wide open spaces for crops and then a cluster of buildings.? House, barn, equipment sheds, plus silos, presumably for storing the corn.? Quite a few of the local roads that we took to see the bridges are all unsealed, so it makes sense that almost everyone drives a big chevvie or GMC truck.? The town of Winterset feels very small and very rural, and it isn?t a stretch to imagine it being the mid 60?s when the movie was set.? It?s been good to see a small slice of American farming life.? And the bridges are more interesting and picturesque than I imagined they would be, so it was definitely worth the long haul to get here.

Day twenty two ? Winterset to Chicago

This morning we were treated to a MASSIVE and yummy breakfast by our hosts Steve and Nancy, who ran the Heavenly Habitat Bed & Breakfast.? Ham steaks, brown sugar sausages (yep, the Americans put sugar in EVERYTHING, but these were actually quite nice), poached eggs (nice to get REAL eggs and not re-constituted and made into omelettes like they serve at the motels) and a baked French toast with peaches.? Which turned out to be a bit like a bread and butter pudding with peaches on top, and it was delicious.? We spent longer than we intended chatting to Steve and Nancy, they were a lovely couple.? From Texas originally and moved to Winterset to be closer to Nancy?s sister & her husband who live in Des Moines.

Steve is semi retired due to health issues, he is a BIG guy, and has a pacemaker as he had an irregular heart beat.? He used to work for Texas Instruments, following blue prints to machine stuff for the military, night scopes and such like, but is unable to work in the field any more due to the high energy environment.? He runs the B & B and they have some kind of retail store they run from the building.? They bought the church when they moved to Des Moines, it had been on the market for a couple of years so was going for a good price.? The congregation had outgrown it and built a larger church elsewhere in the town.? It is basically in two parts, the church itself, which Steve and Nancy converted into their living quarters, and the attached ?church hall? which is now a separate guests quarters.

It has two bedrooms each with ensuite and we also had the kitchen dining and living area at our disposal too.? A pretty good setup all round really.? They are really busy in the summer months, fully booked for weeks on end, but winter not so much.? We were the only guests the night we stayed.? So after much chat and swapping of stories, we eventually hit the road just before 10 am, a late start for us.? We had another visit to the Holliwell Bridge, and were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this time.? It was another lovely sunny day and we spent a few minutes enjoying the place and snapping pictures.? Then we decided to go and look for Francesca?s house from the movie, it was marked on the local map we had, but also noted as ?CLOSED? so we weren?t sure if it would be signposted or if we could even find it.? But it was on the way to Des Moines so we thought we?d give it a crack.?? And we got lucky, the map was actually pretty accurate, and by the time we got close enough I was able to recognise it anyway.? Plus the huge ?Trespassers will be prosecuted? signs were a bit of a giveway.

Pretty cool to see it, even though it looks a?bit different without the gardens out front, plus we were quite a long way away at the end of the driveway from it.? After that, we hit the road for Chicago, as we knew had about a six-hour drive and the car needed to be dropped off by 6.30pm.? We had an uneventful trip, though made a bad decision to exit for a food stop that ended up taking us miles from the Interstate and after all that effort, the options to buy food were dismal.? We chugged down a bad hotdog each and hit the road again.? Of course, we got back onto the Interstate, and the very next stop had a bunch of food outlets right off the highway.? Sigh.

The reason I mention the detour to get food is that we had opted to pay an upfront fee so we could return the car empty.? We figured at the last fill, we would have about the right amount to get us to Chicago without having to stop again.? Of course, the detour for the food stop probably chewed up about 16 miles, and the petrol warning light came on with about 30 miles to go to our destination. ?Then we got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam, presumably everyone coming home after the weekend away, so we were stop/start for a while, and then crawling for a while longer, getting more and more anxious about our dwindling fuel supply.

My theory was we probably had about 50 miles left when the warning light came on, there?s no point warning you that you?re getting low on fuel and then only giving you 5 miles to find a gas station right?? The drive into Chicago was pretty simple.? We?d chosen to drop it right in the downtown area, so it then wasn?t far to schlep luggage to our hotel.? The Interstate and then a couple of expressways took us almost all the way to our destination, with only a few streets to be negotiated once we got off the final major road.? All went ok, except due to roadworks we couldn?t turn left into one of the required streets, so that ended up costing us another lap of the block in fuel to get us back on track.

Then Dora was telling us to turn right down what looked like a tiny alleyway, which Joe almost overshot because it looked like a driveway not a street, but Dora was bang on target, because at the end of the alley, there was the Avis return stop.? Down a very narrow tightly curving driveway into the bowels of a parking building.? One of the guys that was hanging about there offered to drop us at our hotel.? For a tip of course, which was money for nothing for him given he used an Avis rental car to do it, but it saved us having to schlep luggage up to the street and worked out well for both of us.

We are staying at the Talbott Inn, which was one of the cheapest options we could find in the Downtown area and came with excellent reviews on Tripadvisor.? It has not disappointed so far, we have an enormous room and it?s is really pretty and well appointed.? We even had a sofa and a couple of armchairs.? Ideally situated too, the hours of research does pay off.? There?s a guy called Dwayne, and we are struggling to give a name to his role.? He?s out the front at the hotel when you arrive, and he escorted us to our room last night with our bags and then spent about five minutes giving us some great local tips.? Not really a bell boy, more like a concierge.? It?s funny, we are pretty independent and it?s quite hard for us to let someone else schlep our bags and ?help?, but they seem so keen to do it, and almost offended when we pick up bags ourselves, as if we are taking their job from them, which I suppose we are.? Hard to get used to. ?He recommended a great pizza joint that we went to last night, that was heaving even on a Sunday night and we waited almost an hour for a table.? Pizza was pretty darn good though !

Chicago is famous for Deep pan Pizza, which is actually a thin crust pizza with a tonne of filling making it ?deep?.? Scrummo.? We are a skip away from Michigan Avenue, which is known as the Magnificent Mile, named so in the 1940?s because of the range of prestigious shops that populate it.? It?s still the same now, all the big names, Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, Gucci, Prada, Cartier etc etc.?? All stuff that sounds posh but you can never afford to buy.? This is what I was expecting in New York?s Fifth Avenue, but didn?t happen.? Maybe I just didn?t walk for long enough.? Time to hit the hay and prepare for a new day tomorrow.