Saturday, June 1, 1991...

Drove across half of Pennsylvania and all of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to the Mississippi River. Cruising steadily westward, the declining numbers of the Interstates marked the journey: I-79, I-77, I-75, I-65, I-57, I-55. Barely a third of the way across the country and I'd already passed half the north-south Interstates.

Crossing into Ohio, I noticed a sign of the times: the "Welcome to Ohio...the Heart of It All" motto at the rest area was printed in six languages: English, German, Spanish, Japanese, French and Italian. Stopped at a 161-year-old S-bridge next to US 40, still in good enough condition to drive across, then at the National Road/Zane Grey museum a few miles down the road.

Diorama at National Road/Zane Grey Museum, Norwich, OH

This is really two museums in one. The smaller contains memorabilia of Western writer Zane Grey. The larger and more interesting honors the National Road, America's first federally-funded road. The National Road was constructed in the early 19th century, when "west" meant St. Louis; it ran from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois. The museum's parking area displays many National Road mileposts from across Ohio, while inside, a 136-foot series of dioramas depicts the chronology of the National Road from the early 19th century to the beginning of the auto age. Later exhibits illustrate the early days of motoring with photographs, antique cars, and a collection of old Ohio road maps and license plates, while a small bookstore carries hard-to-find publications about the National Road and its successor, U.S. 40.

I drove US 40 for about 35 miles, but stuck to the Interstates for most of the day's driving. I'd be covering about 750 miles, which meant that average speed had to take precedence over scenery; also, I'd already driven most of US 40 across Ohio in the past. Other than the National Road museum, the only other real stop was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This weekend after Memorial Day, the Speedway had resumed its 11-month hibernation. A road from the street leads directly into the infield. I arrived too late to tour the Speedway's museum, but still saw enough to appreciate the race more than one can from TV alone. The 2-1/2 mile banked oval looks immense from the inside, yet race cars routinely circle it in less than a minute.

But most of the day was spent just driving and listening to the car stereo. Saw a couple of good motel names on US 40: the Frisbee Inn in Cambridge, Ohio (old building; sign depicted a flying disc that wasn't especially Frisbee-esque) and the Howard Hughes Motor Lodge in Greenfield, Indiana (not one of the late billionaire's lesser-known ventures). Picked up a real prize at an eastern Indiana Stuckey's: a "Spittoonie," a hand-held cuspidor with thumb-controlled lid. Perfect for the driver with a mouthful of chewing tobacco who doesn't want to slow down or turn his head. The best motel, though, was known only from a radio ad I picked up: the End of the Line Caboose Motel in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in which vacationing couples could sleep in actual converted railroad cabooses.

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