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The main reason we travel is to come back home and tell about it. Here is my virtual vacation slide show of a trip to Iowa. Photos by Phil Houseal


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Color Me Iowan

by Phil Houseal
July 23, 2014


I had to go to Iowa this summer. Because when I last talked with my mom six months ago she was whining about how it had been four years since she had seen me. People get crotchety when they turn 88.

So I loaded up the minivan and headed north.

The directions are easy. Get on IH-35 in Texas. Drive a thousand miles. Get off IH-35 in Iowa. You don’t really need GPS, but I use it because hearing Homer Simpson give directions irritates my wife.

But getting there is hard. Because the first half of any trip out of Texas is spent entering Dallas, leaving Dallas, stuck in traffic in Dallas, driving around Dallas, or avoiding Dallas. I don’t know why they didn’t put Dallas someplace like Lubbock, where the only reason you’d go there is to get there.

The only thing worse is that after Dallas, there is nothing. Don’t believe me? Take the Kansas Turnpike. It goes through the Flint Hills, but, pssst... there is nothing there! As far as you can see on both sides of the road... nothing. No trees, no grass, no fences, no birds, no oxygen. For about 150 miles. And at the end of the road, the state of Kansas charges you $6.75!

But by and by, the fields green up, the trees get bigger, and the distinctive aroma of hogs let you know you have arrived at the center of the universe.

Here then is my vacation virtual slide show:

Amish Buggy

The Amish
I grew up around the Amish. Heck, some of my best drinking buddies were Amish. But I really never learned much about their way of living. One thing I noticed on this trip is a proliferation of new “sports” buggies. The old rigs were basically black boxes. I saw several younger folks driving new two-wheel convertible carts, with sleek curved fenders and sportier lines. Guaranteed to turn many a bonneted head.

Everywhere you look is corn. Acres and acres of it. The land is so rich and valuable in Iowa they have torn out fences so they can plant right up to the road.

And hay. Hay has become so important of a cash crop, farmers are baling it from their ditches. At one business, the owner laid down narrow strips of gravel in his parking lot, so he could mow and bale the grass in between.


Unlike Texans, Iowans navigate by the cardinal points of the compass. It’s always “the north pasture,” “the trees east of the house,” or–and this was actually said when we arrived–“you’ll be sleeping in the south bedroom.” Don’t believe me? Look at the above photo of the garage door controllers.


The Food
Iowa is the “The Breadbasket of the World.” Prime beef, the best pork, the most corn. So you go to a County Fair and what do they serve you? Fried Jello and Krispy Kreme Cheeseburgers.


The Fun
The most jarring change from my childhood is the arrival of The Casino in Riverside. Farming seems gamble enough. I’m here to check out the Cirque du Charlois.

Click here for my side trip to the Star Trek museum in Riverside

Main Street

Main Street
I can stand in the middle of the one-block long Main Street in Wellman and take a selfie, because it is a one-block long Main Street in Wellman. On this day half the entire street was blocked off to paint parking lines and no one noticed. The most traffic is the 4th of July parade.


This is the mural project I painted with 4-H kids during Wellman’s Centennial in 1979. Must have used good paint. Might be ready for a second coat for the Bicentennial.


This is the place I first played drums professionally. For $15 and all the Hamm’s beer I could drink. I sounded better at 9 than at midnight.


The school I went to was Mid-Prairie. The pioneers who named towns and places didn’t get too creative: Plainview, Parkview, Prairie View, Prairie Flower. The best Iowa town name is What Cheer. Always wondered if that is a garbling of “What’s Here?” or the first settlers were sarcastic teenagers.

Waffle House

Back to Texas
Coming home, we cruised through immigration at the Red River border crossing. I proved my Texas citizenship by eating at Waffle House.


Iowa is green. If Crayola made an entire 120-count box of crayons with nothing but shades of green, there still wouldn’t be enough to capture the colors of an Iowa cornfield.

You can color Texas using only the primary colors. Red for the sunsets; green for the jalapenos; and blue for the northers.

But I love and am forever bound to both places. My only wish?

That they weren’t so far apart.