We arrive in the Hawkeye State!
When you cross the border from Minnesota into Iowa you pass into the heartland of America.
And the heartland warmly welcomed us with waving fields of wheat and corn. These are the plains that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the popular anthem America The Beautiful.
"Oh beautiful, for spacious skies For amber waves of grain For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain.."
And the fruitful plains did unroll. At times they lay flat and boundless and at others times they gently rolled, like the swell of the sea after a passing storm. The fertile prairies that feed half the world, our families, and countless generations before, seemed to say reassuringly, "Hello, friend".
Mile after mile of farmland blending into one massive green and yellow checkerboard.
..All right, after a while, the scenery did grow a bit monotonous but overall Iowa is beautiful. You'll find rolling hills, expansive prairies, rambling rivers and streams (great for trout fishing!), and lots of hiking trails.
And, as one of the least densely populated states in the nation, you needn't worry about running into a traffic jam while visiting! Here are a few interesting facts we learned about Iowa while here:
1) Iowa is the only state in America who's name begins with two vowels!
2) It has more hogs than people (for reference Iowa's population is about 3.2 million people)!
3) Iowa produces more corn than any other state (85% of its land is used for farming)!
4) Iowa has had a tornado in every month of the year!
5) Iowa adopted the nickname the Hawkeye State as a tribute to the Native-American leader, Black Hawk!
6) It's the greatest thing since sliced bread! Why? Because the bread-slicing machine was invented here. Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the automatic bread slicer in 1912. Touted as "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped," his machine was initially met with scoffs from bakers who thought sliced bread would grow stale too quickly!
How did we spend our time in Iowa?
While I am only going to write about our time at point #1, Mason City, we found quite a bit to do in Iowa and will write about points #2 - 5 in my next post.
1. MASON CITY:
We came because of Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed the City National Bank building in the town square.
At the turn of the century Mason City was known as "Little Chicago". Local businessmen, filled with optimism, invited Frank Lloyd Wright to design a bank building reflecting the city's bright future. Completed in 1910, the multipurpose building housed City National Bank, a law office, and a hotel. It incorporated many of Wright's architectural trademarks: horizontal lines, widely overhanging, low-pitched hip roofs and broad, low, central chimneys. It also reflected Wright's growing fascination with Japanese architecture.
Sadly, City National Bank went bankrupt during the farming crisis of 1925.
With its lack of a singular roof line, multi-elevated levels, and discordant facades, the structure reflects Wright's crusade to "destroy the (industrial) box".
Here is the restored interior of the building:
The building has been beautifully restored and now serves as a hotel and conference center.
We also visited another home in the area designed by FLW.
THE STOCKMAN HOUSE (1908):
The Stockman home was Wright’s first commission in the state of Iowa. The house features his trademark cantilevered roofs, and a projecting entrance way, broad veranda, and second-story balcony that disrupt the structure’s otherwise "blocky" symmetry.
With this design Wright was attempting to perfect a “fire proof” house for the masses. He determined $5,000 dollars to be the best balance between low cost and quality. However, at a time when the average American salary was less than $700 a year and a Craftsman Home could be built for as little as $2,000 to $4,000; Wright's design was still only affordable for upper middle-class households.
Nevertheless, economy was one of the key considerations in conceiving the plans. Cost cutting features included a compact, two-story floor plan and four sides that were also designed identically, so that a single set of concrete forms could be used.
Although much smaller than most of the houses built today, the home had a warm inviting feel. It is filled with copious amounts of natural light, wood tones, and a large open floor plan. And, given Frank's abhorrence to clutter, very few interior shelves or areas for knickknacks.
Friends Along the Way!
I read a quote recently, that went something like this:
"How do you make friends? I was very
puzzled by this for many years. And then I realized, you just approach a stranger and say, "Hi."
They may ignore you. Or you may marry them. And that possibility is worth that
We said Hi to the strangers sitting next to us at the bar in New Mexico, and met the Jeanette and Larry. We've said Hi to strangers in our campgrounds met such wonderful people as Connie and Vivian, Chris and Jim, Natalie and Greg, Rob and Cathlene, and, Ed and Kathy (to name a few). By saying Hi to strangers on a hiking trail we met Jeff and Gail. All, one time strangers; each now a friend.
While visiting the Stockman house, we took the time to say "Hi" to someone on our tour. And that is how we met Dwight. As it turns out, he also is living full-time on the road.
The slightly cramped quarters of his Sprinter conversion van.
All RVers share a special bond: we've all succumbed to the siren song of the open road. But what is unique about each of us, is the path that took us to our personal "port of embarkation".
Dwight's story begins in the Northwest. Living in Seattle for a number of years, he watched the city become increasingly crowded and expensive. He began to feel as though he was "living in an ant farm", and so began his search for an exit. Here are his words:
"As I looked at my financial situation approaching retirement, I could see that my income stream was going to be reduced by 2/3. I’m a man of faith and as this loomed in the future, I sought the Lord’s input for his will in this pretty dramatic change. I also was pretty clear that I didn’t really want to retire just to sit around and watch TV and do yard work. My prayer was, “Lord what do you want me to do?“ Then I came across a YouTube video from Bob Wells called “Outward Bound” which presented this whole idea of van life. I progressively began to explore through first-hand experience what it would be like to live in a minimalist and nomadic sort of way.
First, I bought a 33 foot class C motor home for $10,000 and spent a season taking it out and experiencing a camping kind of life. It was very instructive and showed me that this type of vehicle really wasn’t a good fit for me. It always had to be in a campground with all of the associated expenses. It also got about 7 miles to the gallon and became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to roam freely and cheaply. I sold it the next year for $9,000 and started looking at sprinter vans. Ultimately I decided to buy a new sprinter cargo van and undertake a van conversion process.
This all took place over approximately 2 1/2 or three years. After I got pretty well along in the van conversion, I was scheduled to take five weeks of vacation from work which I was intending to dedicate to completing the van build out. I was 64 years of age at the time and 3 1/2 weeks into that absence from work I had a spiritual epiphany in which I woke up one day and God just revealed in my heart “you’re done work”. That was recurrent and reinforced over the next few days so I called work and talk to my supervisor and let her know that I intended to retire and not return to work. She was really supportive and made that transition process really easy. I filed for Social Security, sold the house and all my possessions and began my nomadic adventures. Woo hoo!!"
We really enjoyed meeting Dwight and have stayed in contact with him ever since. After spending about a year and a half on the road, Dwight has gone on to purchase a small farm in Texas, miles from his nearest neighbor. Thanks for crossing our path, Dwight!
1A. THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED:
If you have the time, and are interested in Rock & Roll history, take Route 35 north from Mason City and make a left on 315th Street. When the pavement ends, park your car and follow the dirt path about a quarter mile.
On this spot on February 3, 1959, American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and "The Big Bopper" J. P. Richardson, along with the pilot Roger Peterson, were killed in a plane crash. While there is no "official" memorial, the farmer that owns the land has taken it upon himself to mark the somber location.
TWO HISTORIC TIDBITS WE LEARNED WHILE VISITING MASON CITY:
1) Mason City was the birthplace of Meredith Willson. He is best remembered for his Broadway musical “The Music Man”, for which he wrote the script, lyrics and music. His fictitious hometown of “River City”, was based on places and people he met growing up in Mason City.
2) Public Enemy Number #1, John Dillinger
The notorious criminal visited Mason City on March 13, 1934, when he, along with Baby-Face Nelson and five other gang members, decided to make an "unauthorized withdrawal" from the "other bank" in town, the First National Bank. As they fled the bank, they herded bank customers onto the sides and hood of their getaway cars as human shields. Nobody was seriously injured in the melee. Dillinger got away with $52,000.
We found Mason City to be a charming, vibrant small town with much to see and do. Although its best economic years are probably behind it, it has managed to maintain its own quiet dignity.
If you're interested in learning more about the city, here's a promotional video I found online:
Off to Des Moines, Iowa but more on that in my next post!