Saturday, October 29, 2011

The big picture: The World's Biggest Easel of Goodland, Kansas

While visiting the easel, you can whet your palette...

...or brush up on your shootin'.

A lot of people think the Plains states of the USA are, well, a bit too plain and a bore to drive through. We couldn't disagree more, as small Midwestern towns are always doing big, kooky things to get you off the Interstate and driving down their Main Streets. Such is the case with the western Kansas farming town of Goodland, 17 miles from the Colorado state line. Here you will find the world's biggest easel, clocking in at 80 feet tall and 45,000 pounds. On it sits a 32-by-24-foot reproduction of one of Vincent Van Gogh's famous sunflower paintings, an appropriate subject, considering Kansas calls itself The Sunflower State and the yellow beauties are a major crop around these parts. And while the easel is the world's biggest, the painting is far from being the world's largest. That distinction belongs to David Aberg's 86,000-square foot "Mother Earth" of Angelholm, Sweden. The easel and painting are still pretty darn big, though, dwarfing a nearby Goodland water tower, jerky shop and gun store. This is one of three giant Van Goghs done by the Canadian conceptual artist Cameron Cross. His goal is to create colossal reproductions of all seven Van Gogh sunflower paintings in seven different countries spanning the globe (the other two are in Canada and Australia). There's a lovely little park around the easel and while we were there some other folks trickled in to walk their dogs and gawk open-mouthed at Goodland's giant flowers in the sky.

Thank you, Goodland, for your over-sized art appreciation that got us off I-70 for a few minutes of fun and frivolity. Way to Gogh.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The cream of the crop: Raynham, Massachusetts' Milk Bottle Restaurant

This is the interior looking at the round bottle part. There's a drop ceiling and the upper part of the bottle is used for storage.

I love restaurants that have paper placemats that advertise the local businesses...

Gun-running, open-heart surgery...what ever it takes.

I like how Mike modestly slips in a "probably": "If I can't fix it, it probably can't be fixed"

"Hello? Anytime Plumbing? I've got a leaking faucet during the Renaissance."*
*loosely based on a Steven Wright joke.

Go out on a limb? That's gold, Jerry, solid gold!

We're big fans of novelty or programmatic architecture... you know, those kooky buildings made in the shapes of giant animals, food items or other things, and there's a dandy in the nice, southern Massachusetts town of Raynham: the Milk Bottle Restaurant, an eatery housed inside a 60-foot tall, 21-foot wide wooden milk bottle. Built in 1926, the Milk Bottle is a local favorite that has been run by the father-daughter team of Joe and Jamie Losciuto since 2001. Joe operated an electronics business in Boston for 30 years, sold it, and bought the Bottle as a Christmas gift for his family. Jamie had worked at the Bottle for years before the purchase and other family members have been involved over the years. They serve hard ice cream and diner fare. We had a delightful lunch there and it couldn't have been better...good portions, good prices, great service. This is the kind of place there just aren't enough of: a living, breathing, authentic roadside icon that makes you smile and want to come back again and again. It's the dairy thing we need these days and when it comes to milk bottle restaurants, everybody loves Raynham.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Breaker number nine, put your ears on me now: The World's Largest Truckstop of Walcott, Iowa

Way to keep it classy.

"When I says Whoa, I MEAN WHOA!"

They've got "Smoky and the Bandit" on DVD, in case you've worn out your copy.

In 1964, the Standard Oil Company opened a small truckstop in Walcott, Iowa on the then-brand new Interstate 80 that offered one lube bay, a truckers store and a small restaurant. Forty-seven years later, that location is known as Iowa 80: The World's Largest Truckstop and in it you will find a 300-seat restaurant with a 50-foot salad bar, a two-story 30,000-square-foot Truckers Warehouse with chrome accessories, books, DVDs, CB radios, bumpers, custom built show trucks and a 20-by-40-foot wall displaying 500 illuminated truck lights, 24 private showers, a 60-seat Dolby Surround Sound movie theater, the Driver’s Den lounge with leather chairs and a fireplace, two game rooms, an embroidery center, a vinyl graphics shop, a barber, a dentist, a truck service center, a Truckomat truck wash, a CAT Scale, a huge fuel center, a Wendy’s, a Dairy Queen, a Blimpie, an Orange Julius, a Taco Bell, a Pizza Hut, and enough parking for 800 tractor-trailers, 250 cars and 20 buses. There's also a trucking museum housed in its own separate building that, alas, was closed the day we stopped by last spring. There was still plenty to see, though, in this trucker's Mecca of the Midwest. A half-hour of browsing, two large sodas, a T-shirt and 10 gallons of Regular later and we were on our way west. 10-4.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just deserts: The Desert of Maine (yes, Maine)

This great vintage postcard was for sale in the gift shop. Published by Bromley & Company, Inc., Boston, 15, Mass.

The great state of Maine is known for its piney terrain, rocky coast, cold weather, moose, lobsters, and a desert. A desert? Ay-yah, a desert. The Desert of Maine, to be precise, in the small coastal town of Freeport (home of L.L. Bean), a little north of Portland. But unlike the Mojave, Gobi, or Kalahari, this desert is the result of man's folly. If you go back 10,000 years (the good old days), glaciers left a sandy silt all over southern Maine. Then, over the next centuries, topsoil formed, allowing vegetation and agriculture to grow. A Mr. William Tuttle bought 300 acres of this land in 1797 and farmed it successfully for decades, but eventually, poor crop rotation and overgrazing by sheep ruined the soil and caused it to erode -- so much so that that layer of Ice Age silt became exposed and claimed the farm and its buildings despite the Tuttles' best efforts. Having lost the farm, they tried using the sand for brick making, but the sand was lousy for that, too, and the bricks fell apart. In 1917, a Mr. Henry Goldrup bought the place and hit pay dirt by turning it into a tourist attraction. In 1925, The Desert of Maine opened for business and it's been a thriving mecca for eccentric roadside attraction fans ever since, bringing in 30,000 curiosity seekers a year in recent times. A guided half-hour trolley tour takes you across the 40-acre property, a lot of which has been reclaimed by grass and trees. You're riding on a 50-plus-foot sand dune, reminiscent of a ski slope, but with sand instead of snow. Our friendly guide Nate gave us all kinds of information about the geology and how the sand basically took over the place like a slow-moving tsunami. Originally, and in keeping with the desert theme, live camels roamed the place and greeted guests, and employees dressed in Bedouin garb. Unfortunately, camels are not the most hospitable animals, and when the stink and spitting became too much, they were given to a local zoo. Donkey carts were used for tours and this proved successful until local officials insisted a full-time veterinarian was required for any business employing animals thusly, so they were replaced by today's truck-pulled trams. An added bonus for today's tourists is the Sand Museum located in an adjacent barn, featuring vials of sand from as far away as Figi and Alaska. They also have a retro-tastic gift shop and campground.

So if you find yourself in Freeport, Maine, don't bury your head in the sand...check out the Desert of Maine. I double dromedary you.