About a month ago we started out from our home here in Madison, Wisconsin towing our travel trailer and headed to southwestern Indiana and northern Kentucky. After a pleasant night at a Corps of Engineer’s campground on Lake Shelbyville in central Illinois, we took a series of two lane roads for a couple of hundred miles until we reached our destination. As we were traveling down the road and a little bored by the straight flat road, my mind began to observe not only the road itself but the mostly unnoticed stuff along the road that adds to the richness of the rural environment. This post contains some of my thoughts. Instead a series of photographs, I’m attempting to create a verbal photograph of what I observed. So here we go.
As we were traveling along, I kept thinking back to our travel theme song and the subtitle for this blog, “On The road Again” written and made famous by Willie Nelson. The following are some key phrases from that oh so fun song:
On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again……
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again…….
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way
And our way, is on the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again…….
With that song in mind sit back, relax, close your eyes and start this movie in your mind.
The two lane road was long and as straight as an arrow. For most of the way, there were utility poles and wires, mostly on the left, some on the right, sometimes on both sides, and sometimes none at all. Drivers hardly notice them, they are set evenly apart and there is hardly a break in the pattern until there is none at all. I wondered where do the wires go? Some to farms I’m sure but where do the rest go? Now I’m curious. Are you? It hasn’t been that many years since rural America was electrified, it was one of FDR’s New Deal propositions in the ’30’s and 40’s. With government support, rural electric cooperatives were formed all over the country to bring power to farms. After electrification lots of new products came to the farm like milking machines, electric motors to run water pumps, and a whole lot of other stuff. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in a blink of time.
Then there are the railroad tracks that often parallel these country roads. I wonder why both modes of conveyance until I see the 100 car unit trains hauling grain to a terminal on the Ohio River to be loaded on barges and sent to a processing plant here in the U.S. or more likely in another country. A whole lot of tiny seeds, on the road again, headed for who knows where. For the most part, the rail lines are tied to the land whether hauling farm commodities, minerals, and lumber all that come from the land. Lots of other stuff travels by rail too except for people, not so much unlike much of the rest of the world where human train travel is common. We are road people and not much is likely to change that in the near future.
Speaking of grain, the fields were mostly corn and soybeans with a winter wheat field thrown in here and there to break the pattern. There was one very lonely oat field along the road. But there were many grain elevators, mostly the new modern steel bin variety with augers going every which way. There were a few of the old wooden towering elevators although a number of them were no longer in use. Sad to see those majestic symbols of rural commerce fall into disrepair. Wouldn’t be fun to view the countryside from the top of one those buildings, probably can see for 15 or 20 miles in this flat land part of the country. We did see some cows, mostly the beef variety as opposed to the dairy type. No chickens, sheep or hogs were spotted. Maybe they are on farms further off the road.
There are a lot of signs along the road. Every so often, you’ll see a sign pointing to a cemetery often with an address on Cemetery Road. Or a church often on Church Road. But I don’t recall ever seeing a sign pointing to a church and cemetery on the same road. Maybe they think we should assume that if there’s a church, there’s a cemetery.
There must be a lot of Methodists and Baptists in Illinois because most of the signs were for those denominations. The Methodists were United and the Baptists were Free Will and that got me to wondering “what’s that all about!” I asked someone this question and found out the regular Methodists and the United Brethren merged a while back to create the the United Methodist Church. What a relief it wasn’t a take over or coup! The Free Will Baptist story is more complicated with strict adherence to the Bible as the actual word of God. I’d be more happy for them if they were really more Free Will but I don’t think that is what it means! Look it up, it’s an interesting story.
There were occasional signs pointing to Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Catholic and some just plain Christian churches. But there was an absence of signs pointing to mosques, synagogues, or Buddhist temples! Either no early missionaries from those religions migrated here or folks with those beliefs chose live somewhere else, maybe closer to their own tribe. One does wonder though.
I didn’t know there were so many taxidermists needed in these United States. Several signs pointing to shops down a side road. Must be a lot of dead animals that need preservation or rehabilitation! Now repair and machine shops, I understand. We probably can’t have enough of those in rural areas to keep all the equipment in good running order.
Then there were the signs announcing the approach to the many small communities along the route. We noticed that a lot of those towns ended in ‘ton, ‘town, ‘ville, ‘burg, and ‘wood. The oddest named town we came across was Lake City, neither a city (maybe 50 people or so) or by a lake! We wondered how that happened. Maybe the founders had delusions of grandeur and expected this town grow to the size of, well, Chicago, which is a city and by a lake.
In addition to the town name, the signs report the population, at least the population when the sign was erected. In Illinois, the population number always ends in zero, for example, 150, or 500. I wondered if they just estimated the population using the TLAR method (That Looks About Right) or rounded up the number to overreport the number of residences to account for the possibility of new folks moving to their town. Or if the population was underreported to account for those who might be leaving town for other places or leaving town to occupy one of those nearby cemeteries! I just found this a curosity as we traveled down the road.
Well, we reached our destination, all in one piece and our heads filled with these random thoughts and wonderments. After returning home, I ran across this quote by the French writer, Gustave Flaubert, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” That’s certainly true when you get off the fast moving interstate highways and observe the big, beautiful, and rich land we have the privilege to occupy.
Hope you enjoyed this little journey.
Until next week, travel safe.