St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Trip South -- Re-Learning to Walk

DAY 1: Margo and Russ’ Trip South by Auto and Popup Camper Feb 19, 2010.

Highlights: Snowstorm and flat tire

Daily Goal: Pine Island to Branson MO via US Highway 65 550 miles (Big Goal--Go south far enough so there is no snow and warm weather to practice walking after 3 months of broken leg and crutches)

We left Pine Island, Friday at 7:15 AM, a beautiful sunrise and clear; temperature -3 F. We decided to take Hwy 65 south from Albert Lea as far as we could go. To get to Albert Lea, we took Hwy 14 to Hwy 56 south headed to I90. Hwy 56 was so pot-hole ridden, we had to drive 40 mph to dodge them. Some put sinkholes to shame. South of Brownsville it was OK. Note to self: Send Gov. Pawlenty an email!

US Hwy 65 parallels I-35 going south through Des Moines and on through Missouri to Branson. Our goal was Branson, where the off season motels are usually $30-40 in February. We had planned to spend another day there sitting through a couple of Time Share sales pitches to get a free meal and a free show.

Southern MN and the North 2/3 of Iowa was very snow covered with big snow banks along the roads and in town. Hwy 65 goes through lots of little towns, some alive; some dead; and other somewhere between. Lots of old farms with abandoned big barns; a few well kept and many on the way down, being replaced by big shiny steel bins. Very few cattle. Lots of trucks hauling corn on the road near a few big ethanol plants. Three clusters of huge windmills producing electricity. Along the road we saw the storehouse for the windmills with rail road cars being unloaded full of generators, propellers and tower components. Until you drive right along side these parts on the ground next to you, you really don’t realize how huge the parts are. The generator housing seemed about the size of a Caravan; the propeller longer that the railroad flatcar—everything on huge scale.

At Des Moine we hit snow. It got worse and the road became snow covered and very slippery. We moved along with traffic at 30 mph. The 95 Buick Roadmaster is rear wheel drive, and even with the trunk loaded and the camper on behind, was really slipping on the hills—thought we might not get up a few.

Some spots were wet and others slippery so at 4:00 pm we pulled in just into Missouri at Princeton to the Circle S motel. We remembered it as an emergency stop on a trip many years ago when we were headed back from a Jan vacation and got snowbound then too. The motel was $49.50 and nice.

The motel clerk recommended the Crossroads bar and grill just a block north across the big slippery intersection—no sidewalks and everything snow covered and slippery. We decided to drive over. We pulled into the road and the back of the car felt like something was bumping. I crossed the intersection and pulled into the small parking lot, head first with the trailer behind and parked; got out and found the back tire on driver’s side flat.

Margo went into the bar and grill to see if a tire shop was still open at 4:30 and I decided to take off the wheel cover. Took out the plastic lock release lever and all it would do is slip off the plastic lock. Couldn’t budge it at all.

The bar tender called a tire shop who said they would be over in about a half hour. So we had a pop and beer and waited. The service truck came over and a heavily bearded, rough looking 40 something guy got out.

“Can’t get the wheelcover lock loose,” I said while on both crutches for maximum sympathy, “can’t do much since I broke my leg.” He tried and couldn’t get it off either. “Let’s see if I can air it up,” he drawled with an accent that sounded more like Texas than northern Missouri. It held air, but you could hear it hissing out. “Follow me to the shop and we will fix it there” said John (at least his shirt had that name on it).

I carefully backed the trailer out and followed him 6 blocks over a slippery hill to an old fashioned garage—Princeton Tire Shop, and pulled up in front of the bay door and stopped as motioned. “We’ve got coffee and a warm room inside,” said John in a friendly way. “Gonna hav’ta chisel the hub lock out—it’ll still go back on again, but won’t lock very tight.” “Go ahead “ I replied.

The waiting room, about 12’x12’, had a small cash register, a wobbly old brown table and half a dozen chairs. The wall were chipboard, painted white, and altogether a man’s place. An foot wide green board 8 feet up ringed the the 10 foot tall room. One wall had green John Deere toys; one old oil cans, jars and garage items; one stoneware including a crock and whiskey jug, and some glass jars and such, and the rest with miscellaneous antique looking items. One wall had a bunch of 50’s tin car posters and a Route 66 sign. A coffee maker and full pot of coffee gave the room an oily coffee smell.

After 15 minutes, John’s partner, Jim, came in. “She’s ready to go. We patched two holes. The wheel cover is back on and should hold OK. Jim was a thin fellow, grizzled with graying hair. He used a cane and one of his legs seemed to be bent sideways. He stubbed out his cigarette, set down his cane and wrote up the bill. “Yer lucky ya got us ta night. I just got back from therapy on my leg and with all the snow, was telling John we might as well shut down early.” Sure glad you didn’t. We really appreciate it” I replied. “It’s 50 bucks with the service call.” I gladly paid him cash and we backed out, slid our way over to the motel and parked for the night.

Margo walked across the street to a grocery and picked up sandwich makings and we settled in to watch the snow out the window, and Kansas City TV. Four to six inches of snow for Saturday and continuing into Sunday. Roads are snow covered and wet in northern MO, and just wet further south” stated the forecaster while showing pictures of accidents on the freeway and around town.

The Circle S Motel has heat, wireless, cable, and HBO, so we are settled in for the night! It looks like if we get to Branson tomorrow, we will be out of the snow, unless, says the weatherman, we aren’t out of snow. Our tire is holding up; the snow seems to be stopping, at least for a while, and Margo is making sandwiches. We made about 350 miles. Gas was $2.37 at the MO border, but we had filled at $2.49 in IA. Further into MO, it is 2.49 to 2.60—not too bad. The Buick with it’s huge V-8, gets about 18 mpg.