Although we had driven through Iowa a couple of times, we had never spent any time in the state until traveling through in our fifth wheel. Our ignorance about Iowans and Iowa life quickly became apparent.
We thought Iowa was nothing but farms for miles and miles and miles. Indeed, as the largest producer of the nation’s corn, it's covered by expansive farms and is sometimes called “The Corn State.” But there’s much more to Iowa than that: a storied past, people with an affinity for old cars, abundant aircraft, and the world’s largest truck stop.
Some of Iowa's farms date back hundreds of years. Perhaps one of the most notable is the Amana Colonies, which spans 26,000 acres and is divided into seven villages.
A religious sect of Pietists fled persecution in Germany in 1844 and started a commune in Buffalo, New York, where 1,200 people shared all their property and belongings and worked cooperatively. Eleven years later, when they needed more farmland, they moved to Iowa and settled along the Iowa River near Cedar Rapids.
The communal ways went by the wayside in 1932 but, wanting to preserve their heritage, residents set up a profit-sharing corporation, the Amana Society Inc., to manage the farmland. Today, the villages welcome visitors and provide a look and feel of what life was like 150 years ago.
This is the same Amana behind the appliance company, which started in Middle Amana, Iowa, in 1934 as Amana Refrigerator Inc., a manufacturer of walk-in coolers. Today, the company bears the Whirlpool name.
Silos vs. Grain Bins
Many, if not most, Iowan farms feature round structures in varying heights, but they’re not all silos that store grain like we thought.
Silos tend to be tall and narrow and made of concrete, bricks, or metal. They’re easy to recognize by their dome roof. The shorter, stouter round structures are called grain bins. They’re made of corrugated steel and have peaked roofs.
As their name implies, grain bins are used to store grain — most often corn or soybeans. Silos, however, house what’s called “silage”: grass or other green foliage harvested and stored wet. This then ferments and is used to feed cattle. As a result, you’ll most likely see silos on cattle farms.
In addition to taking pride in their farms, Iowans love their country. The Brooklyn Historical Museum in Brooklyn, Iowa, is evidence. A WWII display has taken over the exhibit about John Wayne, who attended second grade in the area.
Research has revealed that a soldier from Brooklyn played a part in raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima — one of the most famous pictures from the war. Although somewhat hidden in the photo, Harold “Pie” Keller has been recognized for his role, and the town couldn’t be more thrilled.
Brooklyn is also home to the Avenue of Flags, where the town proudly displays a collection of flags from each of the 50 states, the four branches of the military, and even some other nations. The idea surfaced in 1991 when the city first assembled an avenue of flags to welcome the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa riders. The city is raising funds to add a life-size bronze statue of Keller to the avenue.
Iowans’ love of America extends to classic automobiles. In one week in the area, I saw three car shows:
I had the privilege of truly immersing myself in history by driving a 1958 Edsel with Teletouch push-button transmission. In the 1950s, car manufacturers started experimenting with alternative ways to shift transmissions. One of the most notable of the time was a push-button solution. Most manufacturers had some version of this, the last of which was Edsel in 1958. The idea was to free visibility to the car’s dashboard.
The car may lack power steering and power brakes, but it definitely provides full visibility of the dashboard. And, with no air conditioner, the ingenuity behind the curved windshield and quarter glass vent windows that deflect the wind and prevent hair from blowing impressed me.
Appealing Plane Conditions
Like Arizona, Iowa is largely a grid state, with roads in straight lines every mile. And, like Arizona, it has a lot of sunny days — about 200 a year. That sunshine and wide visibility are inviting to pilots. Bob and I both got to experience two-seater planes for ourselves while there.
Our Iowan hosts, Gene and Ann Adkins, own a 1960 Cessna 150 taildragger. Gene let me fly with him from Grinnell, Iowa, to a little city called Monticello for a fly-in. All kinds of personal aircraft lined the airport ramp as pilots and passengers gathered for a pancake breakfast put on by the Lions Club.
When the B-25 WWII bomber we tour with had a maintenance issue that needed to be addressed, fellow Commemorative Air Force member Frantz offered to fly Bob from Grinnell to La Porte, Indiana, in his RV-7.
Bob had been scheduled to fly commercially a couple of days later to join the B-25 on tour. With this turn of events, we packed Bob in an hour and sent him on his way the day after we arrived in Iowa, thankful for the private flight blessing.
World’s Largest Truck Stop
As the nation’s top corn, pork, and egg producer, Iowa requires a lot of semi-trucks to traverse its highways to deliver these goods to other parts of the country. Perhaps that’s why it’s been home to the World’s Largest Truck Stop since 1964.
After 28 expansions and remodels over the years, the Iowa 80 Truck Stop today features space to park 900 trucks, a Super Truck Showroom, a movie theater, laundry facilities, a dentist office, a museum, and a whole lot more. It’s worth stopping to see if you find yourself traveling down Interstate 80.
This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.