As we drove west from Quad Cities, we were passed by several flatbed semis with John Deere farm and construction equipment on board. We also saw the familiar green equipment parked in rest stops we passed. It was good to see good ol' American industry at work.
Our originally intended stop was Prairie Flower Corps of Engineers Campground located on Saylorville Lake just north of Des Moines, IA. Because we didn't have reservations, we called ahead to see if they had any non-reservable sites open. It's a good thing we called because they were filled. It turns out one of the four COE campgrounds around Saylorville Lake was closed due to flooding and consequently, the other three had filled up. There was also an Indy car race in Des Moines that weekend and that may have also contributed to the filled campgrounds since the lake isn't too far from the track.
It was on to Plan B, which was Winterset City Park in Winterset, IA. Winterset was a little farther out of our way being about 14 miles south of the interstate, but they had sites available. Winterset Park turned out to be very nice. The roads and pads are gravel and the sites are fairly nicely spaced with grass between. There are trees that provided nice shade, but most aren't big enough to block our satellite dish. Some of the sites are a little short, but we managed to get the motor home to fit by allowing the rear to overhang the grass.
Marion Morrison was born in the little town of Winterset, IA on May 26, 1907. For those who aren't aware, Marion Morrison was better known as actor John Wayne, aka "The Duke." Paul was a big fan of John Wayne growing up, and we still enjoy watching his old movies on one of the classic movie channels on a lazy weekend.
The John Wayne Birthplace Museum consists of the original little 4-room house and a gift shop next door. The house was restored to look the way it did in 1907.
The Morrisons moved 15 miles to the east when Marion was 3, and then picked up and moved to California when he was 7. Although the original furniture is long gone; the house is furnished with pieces appropriate to the period.
There aren't as many pieces of movie memorabilia in the museum as we thought there would be. Apparently most of these belong to either collectors or the movie studios out in California. But there are hundreds of photos from John Wayne's movies and an interesting narrative on his life during the tour of the birthplace. There are also plans for a new 8,500 sq. ft. interactive museum next to the birthplace.
Although Marion Morrison's film career began with bit parts in silent movies in the 1920s, his first starring role was in The Big Trail in 1930 in which he used the name Duke Morrison. Although this first epic sound western was an economic failure, it established Morrison's screen credentials.
The name John Wayne was selected by a director and a movie executive. His first starring role as John Wayne was in Stagecoach in 1939. John Wayne appeared in over 200 movies and starred in over 140 of them.
Margery hadn't realized that John Wayne starred with Marlene Dietrich in the 1942 movie, Pittsburgh, which was, in fact, filmed in our hometown. His character, Charles 'Pittsburgh' Markham, rides roughshod over his friends, his lovers, and his ideals in his trek toward financial success in the Pittsburgh steel industry. You'll have to bear with us, Margery gets excited whenever we discover how history has intersected with Pittsburgh.
One of the most interesting things we learned was how John Wayne got the nickname Duke. It seems when Marion was a boy, he had a dog named Duke. When he passed the local fire station, the firemen knew the dog's name, but didn't know Marion's name so they said here comes little Duke and big Duke. The name stuck.
Winterset is located in Madison County, which was made famous by the 1992 novel and the 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County. At one time there were 19 covered bridges in Madison County of which five original bridges remain. Several bridges have also been reconstructed.
Most of the construction work on the original bridges was done by farmers to pay their poll taxes (a fee citizens in some states had to pay in order to vote in a national election). It wasn't until January 23, 1964, that the United States ratified the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting any poll tax in elections for federal officials.
Although we had not read the book nor seen the movie, we did visit a couple of the bridges. One of them was Holliwell Bridge, which was located a few miles past the campground and which was featured prominently in the movie. At a length of 122 feet, Holliwell Bridge is the longest of the Madison County bridges and was built in 1880.
Another covered bridge, the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, is located in Winterset Park right next to the campground. This bridge was built in 1871 and was relocated to the park in 1970.
The campground and adjacent park are operated by the city of Winterset, and they have done a nice job with both. In addition to the covered bridge, there are some nice shelters and picnic areas. Although the shelters are empty in the early morning photo below, we were glad to see they were being used later on in the day. On the weekend, one group even came in for an early breakfast picnic.
The park also had a maze, two playgrounds, hiking trails, and a reconstructed log cabin.
Also in the park is Clark Tower, which was built of native limestone as a tribute to Caleb and Ruth Clark. Caleb, who was himself a stone mason, and his wife, Ruth, were the first pioneer residents of Madison County. The tower was erected by descendants of Caleb and Ruth Clark in 1926 on the 80th anniversary of the founding of Madison County. The tower is 12' in diameter and 25' high.
In the photo below, we're clowning around on our way to the top of the tower...
We left Winterset on a Sunday, something we usually don't do because we like to relax, watch the NASCAR race, and watch the "weekend warriors" pull out of the campground. However, with 775 miles yet to travel to get to Gillette, WY, by June 28, we needed to be on our way.