Days 31, 32 and 33, WLBT

July 16, 17 and 18 – Bettendorf and Iowa City

Deedie opened for Tom Frank at Prairie Lights book store in Iowa City on July 18, one of the premier independent book stores in the country.  Deedie’s 5 p.m. reading drew 20 some people and the Prairie Lights owners and manager were delighted, as was the Tour.

Two hours later American historian Frank, author of  What’s the Matter with Kansas? was there to promote his far more serious new book, Rendezvous with Oblivion – Reports from a Sinking Society. It was a somewhat larger crowd, but hunger and thirst overtook us and we departed for dinner with Jim and Deba Leach and a Davenport Peace Link Sheila.   Frank has been following WLBT around the Midwest for a couple of weeks, but never before have the two authors appeared at the same bookstore on the same day. 

Among those present for the Scone by Scone reading were Diane Williams, a doctoral student at University of Iowa, the daughter of long-time guests Judy and Don Williams; and the Moyers, close friends from medical school days of Wendy and Bob Crawford, our best Ashland friends. Do you happen to know Bob and Wendy Crawford?

Earlier, Jim took David to lunch with Dr. Christopher Peters, who is trying to reclaim Jim’s seat in Congress for the Republicans.  Good advice was given, but Dr. Peters has an uphill fight in what appears to be a blue year against the Democratic incumbent who unseated Jim 12 years ago.  Jim remains on top of what’s going on in DC and is involved in several international relations groups that meet on a regular basis.  As a student of Russia during his years in the Foreign Service, he found the events of earlier in the week to be baffling, maybe not treasonous, but coming close.

Meanwhile Deba is working on her doctoral thesis on a woman artist of some note, but not well known. So not well known that we can’t remember her name. Reconnecting with them has been a joy, made even better by having dinner with their son, Gallagher; his wife Rachel and their delightful and beautiful 18-month old Claire. We’ve known Gallagher since he was an infant.

We got to Iowa City indirectly.  Taking country roads across Iowa from the banks of the Missouri River on the west to the Mississippi on the east, The Tour passed by millions, or maybe billions, of corn and soybean plants.  We can assure our readers that barring enormous storms, massive insect invasions or other plant-destroying catastrophes, or excessive tariffs, the 2018 corn crop will meet the world’s need for flakes, syrups, fuels, feed, etc.

After being on the road for 90 minutes, we stopped for a late breakfast. Nothing but one fast food restaurant after another presented itself, so the search took longer than we anticipated. Red Oak is a beautiful little town with a perfect square, but not a local restaurant.  Further east we  decided to stop in Villisca, which our new atlas noted was the site of the Ax Murder House.  It’s a tourist stop and we thought we should learn what we could about the still unsolved 1912 ax murder of a family of four in this otherwise bucolic town.


Day Thirty Three of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
The Villisca Axe Murder House

We couldn’t identify the exact house, but several suspect ones were noted.  On the square, we discovered TJ’s, promising real home-cooked food.  Breakfast had been over for an hour, though we spied many leftover cinnamon buns and pecan sticky rolls. We added a sticky bun to our order from the lunch menu. Grilled sandwiches for breakfast.

TJ’s not only has good food, but also the largest assortment of public notices we have seen so far.   Along with “Who invited the dust bunnies?” there was the following “No Solicitation” notice:

We are too broke to buy anything.

We know who we are voting for.

We have found Jesus.

Unless you are giving away free beer,

Please go away.

In addition to serving food, TJ’s is the location for Monday Morning Cards. A dozen or so friendly, much older residents were engaged in lively card games in the back section by the rest rooms, men on one side, women on the other.  As they departed, nearly everyone slowed down as their passed our booth to say good morning, or, “Hope you’re having a nice day.”

Two non-card playing women inhabited the booth adjoining ours and one gave a running commentary on the Trump-Putin news conference occurring live on the television.  The cable networks need to sign up this woman who gave a running no-holds barred assessment of “that xxx who is our president.”  “I’ll do the talking,” we heard her tell her friend, “as I know it’s hard on you.” Her friend had a severe harelip. Rachel is tame in her views of Trump compared to this Iowan.

The rest of our trip proved uneventful. We passed by the old Thrashers museum and Deedie decided she was not properly dressed to be photographed before “The Gothic House” made famous by Grant Wood.  Several old Swedish towns also did not attract our attention, nor did the Museum of Historic Swedes.

We arrived in Bettendorf and checked into a casino hotel on the Mississippi river.  The Tour Director was hoping we’d hit the jackpot. Watching the parade on the river – a four-man crew team, a two-person fishing boat, a three-deck motorized paddleboat decked out with many flags, a tug boat pushing two barges filled with sand, larger working boats and a lone on-shore fisherman – was better than a big win.  It was hard for us to take our eyes off the river for a drink and a walk through the not-too-busy-but-very-smoky casino.  We late a late dinner at Elements, a tea, wine and small plates place in a remote spot in Davenport with a well-earned high Yelp rating.

The next morning we soaked in the hotel’s spa and caught up on correspondence before finding a breakfast spot in another remote corner of Davenport, again through Yelp, and again good. 

On our way to Iowa City, we stopped at the Herbert Hoover Museum in West Branch, learning a great deal more about Hoover, his Quaker upbringing in Iowa and then in Oregon after his father and then his mother died before he was 10, his Stanford days as a member of the school’s first class and as a trustee for more than 50 years, his worldwide mining career that earned him a fortune, his post-World War I humanitarian efforts, his successes as Secretary of Commerce and then his post-presidency work again to feed millions in Europe after World War II and his work in government reorganization at the request of Harry Truman. Now that we know people called him “Bert,” that’s how we refer to him.

Did you know, for example, that:

  • He was widely considered to be the only person who participated in the Versailles negotiations at the end of World War I to have enhanced his reputation?   Credit this to Jim Leach.
  • His was the first face to be broadcast on television, in the 20s.
  • He successfully organized the 1927 Mississippi flood relief effort.
  • He was the first president to call for a national health care system.

In the public’s mind, these good works are eclipsed by his reaction to the onset of the Depression.  Could he have done more in the early 1930s?  Yes, but.  Jim Leach recounted the remarks of historian David McCullough about the friendship that developed between Truman and Hoover.  They acknowledged that forever they would be the bookends to the widely popular Roosevelt.  Yet both of them thought they were smarter than FDR.

After the museum tour, we spent a few moments of silence in the Meeting House where his family were members; Deedie on the women’s side; David on the men’s.  It was the tradition. 

The Hoover site also includes the two-room house where the Hoover family lived and the blacksmith shop, in operation by a part-time smithy, where Hoover’s father practiced his trade.

An interesting fact from the three Midwestern presidential libraries we have visited – Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower were bright boys from poor families, whose success in life were boosted through organizations.  Hoover’s was gained working for an English mining company with worldwide operations, Truman’s was the Pendergast Missouri Democratic machine and Eisenhower’s the US Army.  They did not seek the office, but the office sought them.

What are the chances today of any of these three  becoming president?  Would they want the office?  Maybe not.