The Sports Leisure Vacations Lincoln Highway II tour last month was one of the most memorable trips I have ever escorted. With many returning travelers, along with some new additions to the Sports Leisure Travel Club, our group set off to see the Midwest along the Lincoln Highway, from Chicago to Cheyenne. I must confess that this is a portion of the country that I have often overlooked in favor of the glitz and glamour of large cosmopolitan coastal cities, and had never taken the time to truly experience. Stopping at museums, roadside attractions, and, small town diners and restaurants, we enjoyed the hospitality and goodwill of Midwestern people as we slowed down and returned to the main streets of small-town America. Three occasions stick out in my memory, and have endeared this portion of the country to me forever.
Let’s start with the food. The first meal our group had was on the outskirts of Chicago at a place called Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket. Being a Southern boy, I had always assumed that Southern folk had the market cornered on fried chicken. I hate to admit that I may be wrong. Actually a longtime Route 66 landmark (that famous route starts in Chicago, while the Lincoln runs along the outskirts of the city), Del Rhea’s serves up the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken I have ever had. Add to that real homestyle mashed potatoes and gravy with corn fritters (think hushpuppies with corn drizzled with honey) and we are talking about some good eating. It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it. If I am ever back in that area, and I hope to be, they had better have me a seat ready!
Another meal that stands out is the Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich. It sounds a little funny, but it’s definitely something worth trying. It’s basically an unformed hamburger. The meat is browned and seasoned, and piled high on a bun, topped with cheese, a generous smear of yellow mustard and covered with dill pickles. The group loved it, and some even went back for more—Larry Mullnix, I’m talking to you—and I even took one home to eat cold the next day!
In Shelton, NE, a tiny town, there is small museum dedicated to the history of the Lincoln Highway. We were greeted by Bob Stubblefield and his wife and other volunteers with smiles, coffee, and cookies. The museum had original signs that lined the highway on display and even original paving bricks from the highway. The buildings are conjoined and in true Midwestern fashion, the corner is a bank that looks out diagonally towards the intersection, a feature that welcomes in the bank’s patrons and their money. The original vault is still intact and one can feel the history of the building. Mark posed inside the vault for some funny pictures. We tried but could not get the door closed fast enough so we had to take him with us.
In Kimball, NE, you would think the President himself was traveling with us, because it seemed the entire town showed up for our arrival. We stopped to visit the historic Wheat Growers Hotel that is currently undergoing renovation. The town is raising funds in the hopes of restoring the hotel to its original grandeur. There is much work to be done and much need for funding. Sports Leisure Vacations helped with their cause with a $250 donation, which was presented to the mayor of the town in the presence of the media—the one local reporter. It was truly a big event for them and they treated us like small-town royalty. I wish them the best in their efforts. Hopefully one day I will be able to say that I returned to enjoy the elegance of the restored Wheat Growers Hotel.
Our journey had it all, even the passage of a Barnum and Bailey circus train on its way to its next stop in rural Illinois. (We all kept watching for the car with the clowns!)
In 2011, Sports Leisure Vacations will embark on the third leg of the journey from Cheyenne to San Francisco. There will be many more sights to see and fun to be had. I encourage you to come along, slow down, and enjoy seeing the country and the land, instead of simply jetting over it. Take the time to reconnect with the history and appreciate the life along the historic Lincoln Highway.