Caryl and Brian's World Bike Tour

Amana Colonies, IA to Huntington, IN

Back Home Up Next


Date: Mon, 18 Mar 1996 17:36:56 -0500

Copyright (c) 1995 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.

Chapter 6 - Sept 15 to Sept 29 Amana Colonies, IA to Huntington, IN - 1994 miles cumulative

We spent one last day in Amana enjoying the fact that we really didn't have to push our schedule, hey we're retired remember. Besides, it was Saturday and our mail stop at West Branch was less than a day's ride away so we'd have to wait around until Monday anyway.

We wandered back into town enjoying the use of our feet rather than the bicycle. There was a small Eisenfest going on this weekend featuring all the blacksmiths from the area, about 7 or 8. They all came with their complete blacksmith shop stuffed into the backs of their appropriately outfitted pickup trucks. Their ovens were the most fascinating. Some carried what looked like no more than a backyard bar-b-cue grill, others had antique looking grills with hand powered blowers. But the most unusual were the propane powered little ovens that mounted to the back of the trucks. These were rectangular boxes with a front opening. The entire inside was absolutely red hot. No coals, no blowers required.

They were also having some interesting competitions, horseshoes and an anvil shoot? We never did find out what the anvil shoot was. I just imagined one big burly guy in a sweaty T-shirt advertising some company that produces blacksmith supplies, dirty blue jeans, arms as big as tree trunks, and a belly that had seen years and years of good Iowa beer, hefting one of those 100 lb anvils and with a huge inhale of air giving it a good toss. Well, maybe. We'll never know.

We did get to watch the horseshoe toss for a while. One horseshoe weighs about 2.5 lbs and they toss them probably about 50 times before reaching the winning 30 ringers. I'd imagine your arm would be pretty sore if you weren't used to all that tossing. The rules are incredible and cover a 6 page pamphlet they were handing out. They include every possible situation, like what to do if your shoe breaks upon hitting the pole, or if it breaks when another shoe lands on top of it. Well, I suppose it's the only way to prevent arguments. Oh, for all you ladies, a silver haired woman from West Branch named Betty was in the lead against all the men. Yeah.

After lunch we took in the walking tour of the downtown area. As we walked around the red brick and sandstone houses we heard tales of the history of Amana as well as learned all sorts of facts about the buildings. The Amana people were members of a religion that believed the word of god comes through a few inspired people. It was called the church of the True Inspirationists or something like that. Actually they did believe that true faith came from within and not from curches with all the adornment and ceremony of the Christian churches of the 1700s. The inspirationist idea came later. What really seems rather strange, fishy, suspect, or whatever is the way in which people would gain the inspiration, lose it, and then gain it back again almost on a whim. Also, since the last of the original inspired leaders died in the late 1800s there hasn't been anymore. The inspiration idea does tend to seem rather contrived.

One inspirationist, Christian Metz, lead the westward trek first from Germany to N.Y. and then finally to Amana. Unlike the leaders of many communes, he firmly believed that no one should be "more equal" than others (some of you will recognize this concept from the book The Animal Farm"). In fact when people were moving out from N.Y. there wasn't enough housing completed so being single he moved into the basement of one of the houses so that families could occupy the upper floors. Perhaps his setting the example for the rest is what helped the commune survive for so long when most others fail. We learned that the average commune life is 7 years. Amana survived for more than 80.

It seems that the lack of variety as well as economic pressures of the depression caused the eventual downfall of the commune. Talk of changing their system started in the 1920s. But when a dust explosion in their flour mill burned their woolen and flour mills their economy suffered terribly. So in 1932 the citizenry voted to change.

I could definitly see why they would have tired of the commune life. As kids you went to school until age 14 or 8th grade. Then the "elders" would select a career for you. The women either went to work in a kitchen under the supervision of the "kitchen boss" or in the gardens. The boys worked in the fields, or as one of the skilled tradesmen, and on rare occasions got selected to go for further education to become a doctor, dentist, techer, or other professional. They didn't believe in adornments or any sort of decorations. Their only creative outlet was in some of their knitting and sewing work, of course making only things that were useful. Finally, everyone wore dark, subdued colors (remember the calico cloth factory). My thoughts were, everything was always the same, day after day, year after year. I'd certainy get sick of it after 20 years of the same ole stuff.

Wanting their buildings to last a long time. they tried to build primarily out of brick or sandstone. In some cases the people were moving in so rapidly they had to resort to wood buildings, easier and quicker to build. Note that they didn't paint the wood. They felt paint was a decoration and that it'd be cheaper to replace the wood. On the brick and stone buildings they had grapevine trellesses running half way up the buildings. The grapes were useful for food, in keeping with their tradition that everything have use, and the leaves helped to keep the buildings cool in the summer. The houses were huge, having probably 20 or so rooms all exactly the same 15X15. Remember there were no individual kitchens. When you were first married you were assigned 2 rooms. If you had more than 2 kids you might get a third.

There was a lot to learn, but one last item of unusual interest. If you wished to marry men had to be over 24 and women over 21. You'd go before the Elders and ask to be married. If they concluded that you'd make a good couple they'd separate you for one year. And I mean separate. If you live in the same village one of you would get sent to live in one of the other towns for the year. After the year if you still wanted to marry you'd have a real simple ceremony in front of your family and the Elders (wearing one of those ever so somber dark dresses again). There'd be a small party in one of the communal kitchens. Then you'd be apart for one more week as the townfolk prepared your 2 rooms. Finally, one year and one week later you'd get to be together as man and wife. Well maybe such a long wait wouldn't be such a bad idea today.

>From Amana we continued east through Iowa City. It was a real pleasure to ride through Iowa City. It's very small, probably about 100,000 people. We rode in on Rt 6 which was fairly resonable traffic wise until just 5 miles before thecity. Before the worst part we got off on a bike route taking us past the University of Iowa, through the city park, past the old state capital building now a university building, and through downtown. Traffic was light, the park pretty, temperatures cool, and in general a nice riding day.

As we left Iowa City headed toward the town of West Branch, birth place of Pres. Herbert Hoover, I continued to study the fields of brown corn stalks. I was wondering why the trees and native grasses were still reasonably green, albeit a more muted green than they had a few weeks earlier, yet the corn was dry and brown as if a frost had already happened. Upon closer look I noticed that the stalks still held their ears of corn. The corn husks were dried and peeled back revealing shriveled, miniscule rows of corn kernals. Evidentally afer the April and May deluge of rain, the regions east of the Rockies had no more rain throughout June, July, and August. Just about the entire corn crop in Iowa was lost. On the one hand it's quite sad to see all that labor go to waste. But, on the other, that is what crop insurance is for. I guarantee no farmer plants one single row without it.

We spent an entire day at the Herbert Hoover birthplace museum and presidential library. Fascinating. Bert, as they called him, died in 1964 when I was 7 years old so I don't remember anything about him. He had lived to the ripe old age of 90. One of the most interesting facts we learned was that he was an engineer and he was in the first class of engineers to start at Stanford. There was a great quote on the wall in which he talked about engineers and their work. Basically he said that unlike most other professions, the work of an engineer was always there for everyone to see. If your work is a success, the only accolades you'll get is from your peers. If it is a failure, all the world knows. How true.

His wife, Lou Henry Hoover was the first woman to enroll and graduate with a degree in geology. It was another 25 years before another woman graduated from Stanford in that field.

Hoover grew up in the very religious, Quaker town of West Branch until the age of 8 when he was orphaned by the death of his mother. From that point on he, his brother Tad, and sister May lived with various relatives. Bert spent time with his uncle on an indian reservation where his uncle was the appointed indian agent. He also spent time with his doctor uncle after his cousin died. All of these experiences created a deep desire to help children. During WWI he headed up a relief organization whose sole purpose was to feed the children of the war torn countries. It put him in an interesting situation. He tried to negotiate with both the Allied and German forces to allow the relief ships to pass unmolested. So each side tended to accuse him of being a spy for the other side. Sticky situation. In the end his organization fed billions of people throughout the world and bcame the forerunner for the current CARE organization.

Due to his humanitarian efforts he was quite a hero when elected to office. Unfortuntely that changed during the depression. It was interesting to note that the opposition was very good at making it seem that Hoover was simply sitting on his butt not doing one thing. Yet the facts show he was actually trying to stay on top of the problem. He was doing things like trying to keep banks from going under, keep banks from calling in their loans and causing foreclosures, getting industry leaders to not lay-off employees, suspending war debts from other countries, etc. Basically everything short of starting programs that place people on the "dole". Unfortunately it seemed that as soon as he had one problem in hand another would pop up, like the French calling in all their interntional loans causing an international panic.

Despite his efforts the depression just couldn't be broken. So he lost the election, FDR came in, instituted a lot of social programs many of which were extemely good but some of which should have been given time limits, and took credit for ending the depression. Actually I think the defense build-up needed for WWII is probably what truly ended the depression. Hoover, BTW was the last president who wrote all his own speaches. It's professionals who do that job nowadays.

All in all, ole Bert probably did the best anyone could given the situation. Economic and political tides were just not in his favor. I can tell you, I certainly wouldn't have wanted his job at that time or any other time for that matter. It's a no win, please nobody, hope to get out reasonably unscathed job.

Well, so much for Iowa, it was time to head on to Illinois. Iowa was fun and we met a lot of nice people. If we could just request one thing of their statesmen it would be that they put a 3 ft. wide paved shoulder along their roads. Many have rough gravel shoulders, so the grading is complete. They just need a little asphalt.

One more thing to mention about Iowa. Iowa has perhaps one of the biggest, one week long bike rides in the country. It's called the RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). The Register is the Des Moines newspaper. Evidentally about 8,000 to 10,000 bikers of all shapes, sizes, ages, walks of life, start at the Missouri and ride to the Mississippi. Each year a different route is selected and the small towns literall compete to be included. Think about it, you have a small town with a population of about 5,000 suddenly innundated with 10,000 hungry, thirsty bikers. It's a great opportunity for all nonprofit and profit organizations to make a whole bunch of money. So put out the red carpet and see the local economy soar for one day.

This year the route was from Onawa to Muscatine similar to our route. So we heard a lot about the ride. It's one big cross state party with people staying up late each night, camping in the town parks, school gyms, lots of beer flowing, and lots of food getting passed around. Bands and other entertainment is provided at each town. Someday we'd like to give it a try. For a week it could be a lot of fun. But I wouldn't want to do it all the time.

As we crossed the Mississippi River at the town of Muscatine, home of Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) in 1894 and HON office furniture manufacturers today, Old Man Winter was fiercely nipping at our heals. An early Canadian cold front came down from the north diving all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Snow was dropped in the city of Denver, Chicago had the earliest frost ever recorded, temperatures dropped into the low 30s as the cold front passed through. We ended up spending a day at The Timber Campground as the rain drummed on the tent. We don't mind riding in the rain, but not when the temperatures are so low. We concluded that we'd better start riding hard to get across Illinois and Indiana ASAP. An early winter may be on the way and the flat midwestern states tend to get extremely cold. Just for fun we tried taking one of our bike computers into the tent to check the temperature. It looks like the tent keeps the air about 10 to 15 deg. warmer. We may well need that extra warmth soon.

While hanging out at The Timber we got to talking to the campground owner's son, never did learn his name. An interesting guy, about Brian's height, wearing big old brown coveralls, brown work boots, big gloves, and a green flannel shirt. He had dirty blond hair and sported one of those big bushy handle bar moustaches. He tended to nod his hair a lot when he spoke, but his head nodding had more of a fore/aft motion looking a bit like a pidgeon cooing. Like us he has the traveling bug. In the summer he stays around and helps his folks with the campground. In winter he heads to Mexico for several months. He's traveled extensively through Europe and got as far south as Morocco. Of course I wanted to know more about Morocco since we hope to travel through there someday. He told me of how he rode the Marakesh Express, rode on a bus through the mountains when the bus driver was drunk (I could just picture the luggage falling off the roof as the terrified passengers clung onto their seats for dear life), and how he spent a week at a "hash" farm to watch how thew grew and harvested their *crop*. He found out about the farm from a couple of Spanish smugglers. This was all back in '72 and he says "they were all much more laid back then. I wouldn't do it today. You'd find yourself shot"

He also told me he had gotten into cocaine at one point and had manged to convince himself he had it under control. "But it lied to me, I had all sorts of problems and I blamed them on everything but the coke. When I finally gave up the coke, the probems went away." Later, when we were riding along, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of hellish nightmare he put his parents through. Just imagine what it would be like to see your son consumed by such an addiction. Now that he's given it up, his life seems to have turned around. And, hey, he brought us a nice pot of hot chili on the cold stormy night, so he'll stand out as being a godsend in our minds. Since rainy days means we stay zipped up in the tent and since cold rainy days make it even more difficult to drag yourself out of the tent to make meals, a ready-made hot meal delivered to the door is absoluetly magnificent.

We pushed through Illinois in 5 days including that one day in the tent waiting for the rain to end. Then once in Indiana we headed south a little so we could visit my old Alma Mater, Purdue University in W. Lafayette.

What a wierd experience. I haven't been back to Purdue or even set foot in Indiana since I graduated in '78. At that time I was so burned out on studying, having finished my engineering B.S. in 3 years by taking extra heavy class loads and summer school, I though I'd never be able to face seeing the campus again. Getting that degree took all I had to give. Yet here I was wandering around looking at places where I spent so many hours. It was probably the closest thing to one of those out of body experiences I can thing of. The memories are still so clear yet it seems like that was an entirely different person. I recall sitting in the Sweet Shop of the student union watching these oldy, moldies walking by gawking at everything around them, looking totally out of place. Now here I was, one of those oldy, moldies doing the gawking. As I looked around I thought, that was me once, studying frantically for that exam in the corner of the Sweet Shop, or sitting on the floor by the classroom waiting for the next class, or walking to and from the dorm. Back then I had no idea what the future had in store. Never would I have dreamed I'd be heading out around the world on a bicycle.

We spent the day on campus, walking around familiar and new buildings, stopping in to visit a former prof of mine who unfortunately wasn't on campus that day, looking into my old haunts and study corners, wandering by my old dorm, and appartments, looking in the bookstores, etc. It was an opportunity for me to wander down memory lane and reflect upon the decisions taken and not taken. There is a theory in the science fiction world that believes that whenever there are multiple outcomes to an event, all outcomes actually do occur. Reality then splits creating as many new realities as there were outcome possibilities. This results in virtually an infinite number of realities. I had to wonder what all those other Caryls would be doing at this time.

We left Lafayette and continued riding through the parched, brown corn and soy bean fields. The corn stalks were so dry that pieces of the stalks and leaves were simply cracking right off the stems and floating like pieces of crisp tissue paper through the air. Caught in a whirl wind the leaves danced with the birds. At this time the farmers were going through the harvesting process trying to salvage whatever they could. We were told that normally the fields would yield 160 bushels of corn per acre and 60 bushels of soy beans. This year they were averaging 60 bushels of corn and 15 of beans. I have heard that many farmers have long term storage silos. They fill them when they have a bumper crop year and prices are low. They empty them in bad years when prices are high. So perhaps in the end those that are good financial managers do just fine.

We found the equipment they use to harvest the corn and beans to be mechanical marvels. They do absolutely everything short of cooking the corn and serving it on your plate. They pick shuck, and husk the corn leaving only the kernals to be delivered to market. The bean picker does something similar. We were wishing we could get inside one to see how they worked. But they were all being used to get in what few crops there were.

Farm equipment in general is the most incredible collection of strange looking mechanical magic makers I've ever seen. There's all sorts absolutely huge monsterous hulks of metal, gears and levers usually painted green or yellow. Various tubes, probes, wires, and spidery mandible looking things protrude from the sides. And they all look like they could do some serious damage to body and limb if you got too careless. The corn picker/processor for example has these huge shark teeth like protrusions sicking out in front at ground lever. They are designed to take the corn cobs off of the stalks along each row. They'd do a similar remval job on a person's foot. And the equipment is oh so specialized. There's something to turn the ground, plant seed, different machines to pick each type of crop, a machine to make those huge rolls of wheat or hay, a machine to lift the grain into the grain bins, and even a special little trailer to tow the grain. Many of these things fold up into some even nastier looking convoluted pile of metal so they can be towed down the road. I have to wonder, does George Lucas get his inspiration for his Star Wars death machines and robots from this very same farm equipment?

Appendix A - Route


Rt 6, Herbert Hoover Highway east to West Branch X40 South to West Liberty 70 South, X46, G28 East to Muscatine

Illinois We took a lot of back roads through Illinois. Here are the towns we passed: Buffalo Prarie, Reynolds, Sherrard, Orion, Cambridge, Kewanee, Osceola, Bradford, Broadmoor, Henry, Varna, Wenona, Ancona, Streator, Manville, Cornell, Odell, Campus, Cabery, Chebanse,

Indiana Brook, Foresman, Collegeville, Wolcott, Klondike, Lafayette, Dayton, Colburn, Flora, Deer Creek, Logansport, Leases Corner, Fletcher, Deedsville, Denver, Chili, Lagro, Rock Creek, Toledo, Huntington

Appendix B - Camp sites

Iowa Amana Colonies RV Park ($), KOA at West Liberty ($)

Illinois Thee Timber Campground at Cambridge 2 nights ($), Henry Harbour Inn ($), campground at Streator ($), Kankakee KOA Kampground ($)

Indiana Little Creek Campground near Rennselear ($), Lafayette AOK 2 nights ($), Private campground at Fletcher ($), Huntington State Rec. Area ($)

($) indicates fee camping


Copyright 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.



We'd like to thank my father, Charles Johnson, whose diligent mail forwarding and other logistical support make this journey far easier than it could be otherwise.


Wendy Strutin Riedy for archiving the newsletters on her WWW site,

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