Planning for our trips on the Teardrop Trail is always an essential part of my experience. I love exploring the possibilities. This year, Red Power Round Up, the annual gathering of the International Harvester collectors, would take place at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines from June 15 through 17. We discussed places and events we might want to see before and after the event. Trying to limit the driving to around 6 hours a day, we prefer to take the scenic route, including time to stop and stretch, grab a photo or try a local eatery when time permits. Several months before our scheduled departure, I began an intensive Internet search of websites, blogs and travel emails that would inform our route. I even tried a few on-line planning tools. Hard to believe this would be the fourth year traveling in the Ambassador, our teardrop.
We’ve been part of the Teardrop online community for quite some time, so I began posting inquiries about campgrounds, restaurants and points of interest on several groups’ Facebook pages. Members of Heartland Tear Jerkers had some great suggestions and even extended an invitation to a gathering in Rock Creek State Park, just prior to RPRU. I also reached out to Sarah Tucker of Cool Tears magazine and Marsha Corbin, the Executive Director at Old Trails Region in central Missouri. We had seen a television program of the Flint Hills in Kansas and Jim had seen an event featuring video woodworkers he followed online in Skiatook, Oklahoma. so I started researching the possibilities and contacting organizations along the route requesting brochures.
Armed with our trusty National Geographic Road Atlas, Adventure Edition, I began to compile our wish list and enlisted Google Maps to get the mileage from point to point and answer the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” As the itinerary came together, Jim and I reviewed options. I printed out the notes that would be clipped to the cover of the atlas for quick reference. Next step –- the to-do list.
As we started planning our trip, I noticed that we would be going close to Mansfield, Missouri, the home of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I became aware of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at The Natural Gardener, one of the most unique and beautiful garden centers in the world. I discovered it in 2005, upon my arrival in Austin. A rack of colorful seed packets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds had appeared in the store and I took a few to try. I was hooked. I started searching for more information and discovered some of the interesting facts about the company. The business has grown since it was founded by Jeremiath “Jere” Gettle at age 17, in his bedroom on his family’s civil war-era farm in the rolling hills of the Ozark region. The catalog, lavishly illustrated with vibrant, colorful photographs, offers more than 1,800 varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers from 75 countries.
Baker Creek seed store
Baker Creek test gardens and seed warehouses
We drove from Springfield to Mansfield and followed the directions to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have created an old-timey pioneer village that was built with the assistance of Amish and Mennonite carpenters. Bakerville is reminiscent of a late 19th century homestead. We began exploring the village that includes a mercantile, restaurant, a natural bakery, garden museum, blacksmith shop, a windmill, speaker and music barns. It is also home to many breeds of historic poultry and livestock. I was amazed by the seed store with hundreds of seeds and wanted one of everything. As we were looking down on test gardens, seed warehouses and the Amish barn where orders are processed, I recognized David Kaiser. He appears in many of the catalogue photographs, videos and on the website and has achieved celebrity status. He was a neighbor who made friends with Jere and has assumed the role of sidekick modeled after “Gabby Hayes.” Dave has been described as a people person. He greeted us and chatted with us as we ate lunch. A true talking icon who made us feel very welcome. Check out Baker Creek’s Whole Seed Catalogue.
Crossing Missouri in the rain, we arrived in Springfield and checked into the Econo Lodge. True to the billing on their website, it was a no-frills hotel…. Although we normally seek out interesting local places to eat, after a day driving through the rain we saw a Bob Evans, located conveniently just across the parking lot. One online source observed that if Dennys and Marie Calenders had a child, it would be Bob Evans. The chain started on an Ohio farm and is known for family-style American cuisine. We enjoyed dinner and returned for breakfast the next morning. Bacon and eggs with hash browns. The biscuits were large and fluffy. No, we weren’t at iHOP anymore.
Next stop – the Darst International Harvester Museum. One online source describes a visit to the museum as a history lesson because the couple, Darrell and Kevin, have a story to go with each item. We met Darrell at our very first Red Power Round Up in 2014 at the State Fair Grounds in Huron, South Dakota. Last year, we had the pleasure of stopping in Madison and seeing both Kevin and Darrell as well as their amazing collection of tractors, thousands of IH keepsakes and memorabilia. Darrell is the editor of Harvester Highlights, the quarterly publication of the International Harvester Collectors Club that provides for the preservation of International Harvester history, products and memorabilia. Tracto, the 8-foot talking robot, built from 227 tractor and implement parts, greets visitors at the museum like he had done at county fairs, state fairs and special events for 60 years. Darst had known Tracto since he was 13 when he met the robot at a corn picking contest and now has lovingly restored him.
Kevin has been described as the queen of IH refrigeration and freezer collectables. She has a corner dedicated to International Harvester refrigerators, freezers, documentation and mementos. My publisher, Lee Klancher introduced us as I began working on Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding, the IH “Betty Crocker” spokeswoman for home refrigeration . Kevin had known many of the IH home economists from the promotional team and has letters describing the role of these women in the company. It was good to see the Darsts again as we started discussing another book project.
After our trip through the Amish Country, we headed to the small farming community of Madison, founded in 1836 and named after the US president. It was another quintessential Mid-Western town, with a main street that had seen better days.
The Hoof resteraunt in Madison, Missouri
We had just enough time for lunch before our meeting at the Darst IH Museum. As we drove past the downtown, we found The Hoof Family Steakhouse. It has a down-home vibe with laid back décor of barn wood and corrugated tin. It seems to be a favorite of family and locals for meetings of social clubs, birthday and other celebrations. Online reviews talked about the crowds on Saturday night, luckily we were there at lunch.
We ordered the Build Your Own Burger. THE FRIES!!! Fresh cut and amazing. We are becoming French Fry aficionados as we travel the Tasty Trail. Who would have guessed that there are so many delicious ways to make French Fries. Great food in a great farm town. Sadly, we had to pass on the fried pickles – next time…..
After the memorable breakfast at Funny Pages, we had a few hours to explore. Our friend Kevin Darst, a mail carrier in the area and International Harvester collector had suggested visiting the Amish country in nearby Clark, Missouri. We set off, expecting to find the businesses located in the center of town but that wasn’t the case. A quick search on the Internet produced a map of the stores in the Amish Community. The colony was founded in 1953 and is one of the three largest in the state. The region is described as “a tightly knit area with Amish farms adjacent to each other for miles along its country roads.” The shops, located at the farms and along the rural roads sell rugs and leather, and other businesses dot the community. Many homes sell eggs, baked goods and produce in season.
Amish high style transportation
We stopped at South Side Sales, an Amish Grocery. A buggy was parked across from the entrance. They specialize in bulk foods with 16 kinds of beans, 18 kinds of flour and over 100 kinds of spices. They also sell produce from neighboring Amish families. Many of the products sold in the store come from a company in Pennsylvania that sells products from many of the Amish farms in the southeastern part of the state. We picked up some egg noodles to enjoy at home, memories of our trip.
A horse drawn reaper-binder
Loose Stacking oats
Farming remains an important aspect of life. We watched the farmers cutting and loose stacking the hay in the field with their horse-drawn equipment. What a contrast between men with draft horses doing the tasks and the farm equipment at Red Power Round Up! Watching for the horse-drawn buggies we headed toward Madison.
We discovered Funny Pages as we passed through Moberly in north-central Missouri on our way to Red Power Round Up, earlier in the month. Just by chance, I’d seen their sign that advertised baked goods and coffee drinks. It was easy to fall in love with a place that combines a comic and cartoon décor, with the tantalizing smells of amazing baked goods fresh from the oven . . . We noticed that the staff posted three different silly jokes around the dining room. As the website says, “The jokes will either make you smile and laugh or just shake your head . . .”
Funny Pages Cafe Sign
One of our favorite indulgences on the Teardrop Trail is sampling chicken fried steak and we’ve tried out many variations of this road food staple. At Funny Pages, the Chicken Fried Steak, served with peppered gravy did not disappoint.
Dinner at Funny Pages was so much fun that we returned for breakfast. Jim ordered the Junkyard Boss, three scrambled eggs, one biscuit, hashbrowns, all smothered in a sausage gravy with two strips of bacon on the top, complete with Mocha. No, we weren’t at iHop anymore . . .
There is a reason we named our teardrop the Ambassador. On our first trip, folks stopped by to meet the Ambassador in droves. It was a great way to connect with the neighbors and others in the campground. Some walked, others arrived by Cub Cadet, while others came by other more unique methods of transportation like red tractors. Many were curious about the interior and the fine points of traveling in a small trailer. We learned at our first Red Power Round Up in 2014, that we would be giving tours on a regular basis.
Tractor Mac and a fan
One evening, Billy Steers and his wife Julie stopped by to meet the Ambassador. After the tour, they mentioned that they had an Airstream Bambi, a favorite among Airstreamers and a truly unique trailer. They invited us to stop by their booth the next day for the Tractor Mac presentation. Billy, a.k.a. Tractor Mac is an author, illustrator and commercial airline pilot for American Airlines. He introduced his first children’s book in 1999, Tractor Mac Arrives at the Farm featuring a red tractor with big headlamp eyes, a broad smile and a huge personality. Tractor Mac has continued introducing not only more books, but new characters. Last year, at Christmas, we got a Tractor Mac book and toy for Jim’s nephew who is a huge tractor fan.
As we walked through the campground at the Racine County Fairgrounds, I spotted the Bambi. I knew that Tractor Mac would be giving several presentations at Red Power Round Up. We checked out the schedule and found the Tractor Mac presentation was in the Picnic Shelter. It was great to catch up with Billy and Julie again. It was amazing to see how the young fans worshiped the character, who appears “in person,” a bright red IH tractor with those friendly eyes.
The Steers’ Bambi at the Red Power Roundup in June of 2015
We’re rarely on the road early, and by the time we visited the Mark Twain Birthplace and navigated across Mark Twain Lake it was nearly noon. Just as the thought of lunch was occurring to me, we pulled into Perry, Missouri. Once a booming coal town, it is now a destination for lake fun and antique shopping. It is also one of the prettiest small towns in Missouri.
After lunch at the Hootenanny, I wanted to walk around and photograph some of the buildings. Within a block of Palmyra and Main, there are several ornate examples of late-nineteenth century commercial architecture including wood, brick and cast iron façades.
Miss Daisy’s Antiques
Many of the buildings now house antique stores. We took the time to explore one particularly promising one. I’m a woodworker and enjoy finding, restoring and using old hand tools. This store had a generous supply of old saws, planes, chisels and the like and I couldn’t resist exploring. There were lots of other things to look at, and we spent about an hour there. We were definitely going to have to visit again when we had more time. Sadly, we needed reach Peoria by late afternoon and play time in Missouri was over for now!
We decided to take the scenic route after leaving Mark Twain’s birthplace. As we pulled into the small town of Perry, Missouri around lunch time, we saw the Hootenanny Cafe on corner of Main Street and Palmyra Street. Discovering local places to eat is one of our favorite parts of traveling. One online review described the menu as “a small town take on fast food that reminds one of granny’s cooking.” From lemon meringue to apple, it was hard to miss the amazing pies, being placed on display as they came out of the oven.
A fine lunch at the Hootenany
Walking in the door, there was a homey atmosphere, the quintessential American heartland cafe. This was clearly a gathering place for some of the locals. Two ladies at a table across the room could have been the reincarnation of my grandmother Tina and her best friend Beulah from their print dresses to their sensible shoes. Our table was set with with tall, Pepsi plastic glasses, the black metal napkin dispenser as well as the yellow mustard and red catsup plastic squeeze bottles.
Jim had a BLT and I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. He chose fries and I got the onion rings to share. Yum. To Pie or Not to Pie, that became the question after lunch.