On the Road Again

We headed out of Springfield with St. Louis in our sights. Rather than jumping on the highway to get there as quickly as possible, we decided to take the more rambling drive through Route 66. While there are some very fun stops on Route 66, in many places it seems to merely be an excuse to leave old junk and call it nostalgia simply because you put up this sign.

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Still, the route was beneficial for two reasons. First, the weather was terrible and during periods of heavy rain we were happy to be driving the slower, less populated road. And, second, well, sometimes kitschy is fun.

Our first stop was more on the somber side, however. We took a few moments to visit the Mother Jones Monument in the Mount Olive Union Miner’s Cemetery.

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Born in 1830 (or 1837 depending on the source), Mary Harris Jones, the sometimes teacher/sometimes dressmaker, would become one of history’s fiercest labor activists. Mary led a difficult life. Married in 1861 to George Jones, she would lose her husband and all four of their children just 6 years later to yellow fever. After the loss of her family she opened a dress shop in Chicago only to have it (along with her home and all of her belongings) burn to the ground 3 years later. In a ten year span, two tragedies had taken everything from her.

But it was that brief marriage to Jones, an iron worker, that would first spark her interest in unions and unfair labor practices, an interest that would become part of a life-long crusade. Mary fought tirelessly for safe working and living conditions for miners and was so instrumental in their fight that she is buried along side them in the miners’ cemetery with the monument serving as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the fight.

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Our next stop was far more lighthearted and frivolous. It was actually just a drive-by at the Soulsby Shell Station, the oldest remaining service station on Route 66. Originally opened in 1926, it remained in business until 1993 (the pumps were closed in 1991, but the station still provided oil checks, soft drinks and a fun stop for tourists). Today it has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Further down the road we passed by this giant chair (explanation unknown):

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And then, of course, our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle:

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The catsup bottle (actually a water tower), built in 1949, stands 170 feet tall and was saved from demolition 20 years ago. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002, and even has its own fan club.

That’s it for the road. Meet me in St. Louis for the next installment.

All comments and questions welcome.

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The Big, the Bad and the Kitschy

Our final voyage out of Minnesota included an accidental NPS stop and a couple of fun recommendations from our trusted Road Trip USA.

As we were driving along the Great River Road (GRR), one of America’s Scenic Byway, we happened upon the Great River Road Visitor’s Center. The NPS partner site contains the GRR Visitor and Learning Center, and both the National Park Service Mississippi River and Recreation Area and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

We visited the center, exploring the exhibits and the views out the back along the river. We chatted with the volunteer on duty about our trip and our upcoming travels. When we asked for a lunch recommendation, she recommended a place in nearby Red Wing. Since we had business in Red Wing anyway, we headed that way.

Our designated stop was to the Red Wing Shoe Company for a little bit of shopping, and to tour their very small museum (basically a history of the company with some fun movie and celebrity facts thrown in).

The big attraction (and I do mean big) at Red Wing is their giant boot. The World’s largest. The boot, size 638D, is 16 feet tall, 20 feet long and weighs 2,300 pounds. It was created for the company’s 100th anniversary. It is an exact (and giant) replica of their 877 Classic Workboot.

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Further down the road, (across the border in Lacrosse, Wisconsin) we find another “World’s Largest…” this time, a Six Pack of Beer. Yep, that’s right. The 6 “cans” at the City Brewery hold 688,200 gallons of beer – enough beer to fill 7,340,796 cans. A sign at the base of the six-pack indicates such stats, as well as the fact that the towers would provide one person a six-pack a day for 3,351 days. Cheers!

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That’s about it for this installment of fun on the road! So, tell me – what’s the goofiest tourist attraction you’ve visited?