Sunday, May 28, 2000...

I awoke to overcast and drove east largely through rain. Good thing I didn't have much planned. After breakfast, my one real stop was the Herbert Hoover Historical Site, which includes the two-room cabin in which he was born, as well as a Presidential library and the graves of Hoover and his wife.

Herbert Hoover birthplace, West Branch, IA

The museum was presenting a special exhibition on women in American history, including but not limited to First Ladies; others profiled ranged from suffragists to Mary Pickford and Madonna! The permanent exhibit emphasized Hoover's truly distinguished pre-presidential career – self-made multimillionaire as a mining engineer, then organizer of relief efforts throughout Europe after World War I and one of the few distinguished members of the Harding and Coolidge Cabinets. But it overstated Hoover's commitment to reform during the early years of the Depression, when it became clear that his self-reliant individualism was woefully inadequate to solve the problems facing the country, and completely glossed over the decade he spent as a sour-faced scold, warning that Franklin Roosevelt was destroying America. Even in his later, "elder statesman" years, Hoover's photos generally suggest a man who had just taken a good whiff of vinegar.

       From there, I continued east through the Quad Cities (so called because there are four of them, not because severe spinal injuries are especially common here) and through the small towns of central Illinois. While unpleasant, the rain didn't slow me down – there was nothing to stop for anyway. At Joliet, I turned north toward the airport and headed home. Final totals: nine days, 10 states, 4,714.5 miles. Net of taxes and the first tank of gas, the nice folks at Budget Rent-a-Car earned about three cents a mile from me.

   Since I've already driven US 6 from Joliet to Hartford, Connecticut, let's just pretend those drives took place on this trip...

   Indiana is no more interesting on 6 than on any other route. One exception: the Amish country of east-central Indiana. The local sect doesn't seem as strict as the Pennsylvania Dutch: although everyone wore loose black or gray garments, some of the men were clean-shaven and many of the families rode bicycles instead of riding in a buggy. The Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, IN also houses a large selection of the most ornate autos ever built, the height of lavish Thirties styling.

   Across Ohio, 6 passes through the town of Fremont, proud home of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, then swings north to follow the south shore of Lake Erie. Large estates abut the road for miles, since the properties north of 6 front directly on the lake. 6 then joins with US 20 west of Cleveland, passing through the downtown Public Square, before branching off. Though just one or two blocks south of 20 for several miles, 6 passes through a slum even where 20 has seen millions of dollars in recent development.

   In Hartsgrove, Ohio, the proprietor of the Hartsgrove Emporium, one Nick Pahys Jr. displays a huge sign proclaiming that Bill Clinton is actually the 50th president. "ONLY ONE PERSON, NICK PAHYS JR. KNOWS THE IMPORTANCE THAT EVERY AMERICAN SHOULD KNOW, JOHN HANSON, TRULY WAS OUR FIRST PRESIDENT." A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Mr. Pahys: in fact, Hanson and the others before George Washington presided over Congress under the Articles of Confederation, a role under which they had no executive authority whatever.

   Between Erie and Scranton, PA, Route 6 is among the most scenic drives in the East. It passes through a series of small mountains which seem to last forever. A few miles off the road lie the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, near Wellsboro (deep, but heavily forested, with no visible erosion) and the 2,200' long, 301' high Kinzua Bridge, originally constructed for the railroad in 1882, rebuilt in 1900, and now preserved as a footbridge. An overlook above the Susquehanna River shows the site of the town of Azilum, founded 200 years ago by French royalists who hoped Marie Antoinette would emigrate here. Factoryville, PA commendably honors Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson with signs at the town line, while Dickson City's Circle Drive-In has one of the nicest marquees anywhere.

   6 can safely be skipped across New York and western Connecticut -- with one short, spectacular exception. Between the New York Thruway and US 9 in Peekskill, 6 passes through scenic state parkland, then crosses the Bear Mountain Bridge, first suspension bridge over the Hudson south of Albany. The "scenic view" turnout half a mile south of the bridge lives up to its billing -- once, driving through here in the winter, I even spotted a bald eagle nesting nearby. For the next three and a half miles, 6 zigs, zags, drops, climbs and twists its way down the mountain; this route would be the perfect place to test-drive a sports car.

   Rather than dwell on the boring route to the east, I'll end on this high note. Watch for the next installments of "News from the Road" around Labor Day: coming attractions include the western half of the Oregon Trail and the rest of Routes 20 and 6.

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