I got up extra early Thursday morning and drove south through a corridor in the corn, all the way to Waterloo, Iowa. I'd managed to work in yet another John Deere tour before leaving Iowa and this time I was going to get to see the plant where they make giant diesel motors. I'm such an old hat at this by now that I knew to leave my camera in the car, so as usual I don't have any pictures of all the cool stuff to share with you. One of the tour guides apologized about the strictness of the rule and told us a group of industrial spies had recently been caught taking secret pictures in the Pioneer Seed Plant in Des Moines, so it wasn't just paranoid delusion that dictated the policy. Sigh.
I very much enjoyed my tour, and was truthfully overwhelmed with everything I took in. The precision to which they must tool the metal blocks is staggering to consider (2 microns and closing, captain) and each individual unit is massively heavy to boot. A lot of the infrastructure in the factory is involved in how do you move a couple of tons of metal along the line like it's a helium balloon. They have to get into all sorts of crazy nooks and crannies, top and bottom, so a lot of machinery is used just to rotate the motor on every axis. My respect for John Deere continues to grow and it's nice to feel good about a corporation for a change.
When I left the motor works, I wasn't in any particular hurry so I decided to meander along some of the small county roads that criss-crossed the cornfields between John Deere and Mason City. Roads in these sorts of areas are usually a pretty straightforward grid so my strategy was to just keep going north and west like a etch-o-sketch of dust with Cadillac tires.
I ran out of paved road a number of times along the way. and had to turn around once when the road ended in construction area that hadn't see a worker in many a day, all the while kicking up a long plume of billowing white dust that coated not only the car but every other living thing in a 1/4 mile radius. The thick coating made the Radiant Light ribbons on my cowgirl hat look like a back window black opal:
I got back to Mason City just a bit past 1:00 with my stomach growling loudly. I passed the eye-grabbing Birdsall's Ice Cream Parlour at just the precise right moment and it was the sign that read "Fresh Peach is Here!" that riveted my attention most closely.
Birdsall's has been making their own ice cream in the back of this store since 1931. They don't mess around with serving anything else but ice cream - no mix ins, no marble slaps, no fancy glass cases. Just ice cream in all its glory: shakes, malts, sundaes, splits, cones, floats, sodas - you name it. I went the whole peachy 9 yards and had fresh peach ice cream with fresh peaches on top. Sublime! I sat at the original counter covered with the original boomerang Formica and thanked every road food god that I could think of. It tasted like what I remember eating off a dasher in the middle of the incandescent Texas summer. Another fellow walked in and sat down while I was savoring my ice cream and the young server fixed him a milkshake concoction of some sort without exchanging many more words than a greeting - it was obviously his usual.
Having ice cream for lunch is one of the great joys of life. It turned out to be just the right precursor too, since I had reserved a spot at the restaurant in the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel downtown for my final evening's meal. The Park Inn Hotel is an early building for Wright and has recently undergone a very expensive makeover to become a secret showplace of the Midwest.
I was seated at the bar that bordered the cooking area and enjoyed chatting with the two chefs that worked busily on everyone's dinner. It was a good vantage point from which to sip my ritualistic margarita of the Midwest and preview all the delicious dishes before choosing for myself. I had a delicious and pleasant repast in what I think must have been the most elegant spot I'd sat in since leaving on my trip.
After dinner, I drove around the city a bit to try and find a strange Stonehenge-like structure the cooks at the restaurant had mentioned. When I finally found it, I wished for my friend Bruce Christiansen because he's the cleverest person I know at figuring out what things are and I still haven't a clue what the enormous concrete pilings were used for. I finally headed on back to the NIACC dorm room I'd inhabited for almost a week so I could finish getting everything ready to get back on the road the next morning.
There was a large mound of construction dirt heaped not far from the dorm building and I had taken to scrambling up the back of the largest pile on the evenings I was around for sunset. My only company on the dirty little island lodged above the verdant prairie was several bulldozers and a few mounds of construction debris. I climbed up the familiar ridge I had scouted which yielded a nice view of the sun as it sank just below the low ridge of trees and cornfields. The air was a lovely temperature - neither warm nor cool - and a barely perceptible breeze cooled my face. I sat taking in the quiet and golden light and the smell of the dirt - lazily contemplating the joy of occasional isolation, when in an instant a cacophony suddenly descended on me, seemingly from every direction. I hurriedly ran through a checklist in my mind: car? no, human? no, imagination? No! The sound rapidly change in tone and volume, increasing and approaching but I couldn't see where it was coming from. Every nerve was on end. Suddenly, directly over my head and finally into my field of vision passed a dozen or so Canadian geese, flying at a dramatically low altitude coming from behind me and flying in a trajectory directly in line with the direction I was gazing. I was stunned. My heart felt full to bursting. To hear that amazing sound, not have any idea what it was, hear it change and increase and explode - and then to find that it was the sound of air moving under massive wings, dozens and dozens of them - I was beyond elated. I know they planned it, as they flew along. "Hey! Let's go check out that pink thing down there! Tee hee!" They honked to each other merrily after they buzzed me - I could hear them. My story just gets better and better.
I practically floated back down from my mound of dirt and back to my room. It had become so clear in the last couple of days that it was time to get on the road and moving again. I always learn lots about myself when I go on these long trips and one thing that has been clear this jaunt is that I shouldn't plan to stay in any one place all that long. It's just not in my blood. I'd enjoyed the convention, but it was time to start drinking from the fire hose again.