The Great River Road, Part 7: Davenport to Maquoketa Caves SP, IA

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. – Gustave Flaubert

 August 30, 2015 – Day 9 – Davenport, Iowa

After a restful night’s sleep wedged between rows of trucks at Wal-Mart, we headed out to worship at the Central Church of Christ in Davenport. Several members welcomed us and, as is customary, asked, “Where are you from?” This is not a difficult question for most people, but we’re not most people. We can claim Tennessee, the place where we met, graduated from college and got married, and where my dad and sisters live. We can claim South Carolina, where our mail is sent, where Lil Jan was born, and where most of her family lives. We can claim Delaware, my birth state, or Virginia, where we own a home. Florida is another option, because that’s where we most recently lived, where our driver’s licenses are from, our cars are registered, and where we keep most of the handful of possessions we own. Of course, a lengthier, more complicated option is to discuss 47 years of Air Force assignments. However, the quickest, least complicated, and most accurate response is to simply point to the RV occupying several parking spaces along the back of the church parking lot. That’s where home is, at least for now. Before saying farewell, I gave a final glance to the four large banners hanging from the front wall at the church building. They offered sound advice, so I thought I’d share them:

  1. Walk faithfully.
  2. Give generously.
  3. Love extravagantly.
  4. Share fearlessly.
Lil Jan Doin' Large Things
Lil Jan Doin’ Large Things

Our next stop was about as touristy as they come: Iowa 80, The World’s Largest Truck Stop! It humbly began in 1964 with one bay, two diesel pumps, and a small restaurant in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Today, this massive, 24/7 complex has grown to 225 acres and 900 parking spaces for truckers…in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. It features…

  • Iowa 80 Kitchen, a 300-seat restaurant with a 50-foot buffet (surprisingly good food)
  • 30,000 square foot super trucks showroom
  • 24 private showers
  • 60-seat surround-sound movie theater
  • Driver’s Den with fireplace
  • Two game rooms
  • Barber shop and styling salon
  • Truck wash and truck scale
  • Truck service center
  • Dentist
  • Chiropractor/masseuse
  • Custom vinyl graphics shop + embroidery center
  • Upscale gift shop, collectibles store, and travel store
  • Food court, featuring Wendy’s, DQ, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and more
Big Rig Driver
Million dollar truck…$3 jorts

As I walked around this amazing place, the thought crossed my mind that we could leave the RV parked outside and live here. Think about it. Nightly massages. Adequate showers for family gatherings…or a Hernandez family sleepover. An on-call, 50-foot buffet. Greeting truckers at the Driver’s Den with popular phrases like “Breaker one-nine,” “Hey good buddy,” and “You’re aware of the showers, right?” And when tourists ask, “Where are you from?” I could say, “Right here! Lil Jan works in the embroidery shop and I help truckers pass gas out by the bays.”

Sadly, my idea to live there was rejected, so we headed north to set up a new base camp at Maquoketah Caves State Park. As usual, we will do a campground review of this state park in a separate, upcoming blog.

August 31, 2015 – Day 10 – Amana Colonies, Iowa

Although we were a little west of the Great River Road corridor, I decided to take us even further west to visit the Amana Colonies. I learned about these towns/colonies in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die book and wanted to try to work them in before we die. (Our time is running out…yours is too. Sorry for that mid-blog reality check.)

To understand the National Historic Landmark known as the Amana Colonies, one must go back to 1714 in the villages of Germany. A religious movement began called Pietism, which promoted faith renewal through Bible study, prayer, and reflection. More specifically, they believed God, through the Holy Spirit, inspired individuals to speak. They called their group True Inspiration based on this perceived gift of inspiration, or prophecy. Unfortunately, they were persecuted for their beliefs and sought refuge at the Ronneburg castle and other estates in central Germany. Fast forward 130 years and the group faced severe economic depression in Germany and more persecution. In 1843 they decided to pool their resources and sought religious freedom in America. Working together and sharing their property, this community of 1,200 people established a separatist, communal way of life on 5,000 acres near Buffalo, New York.

German food? We're there.
German food? We’re there.

The community, now called the Ebeneezer Society, thrived and outgrew their land. They needed affordable land with enough fertile soil, stone, wood and water to build their dream community. Those requirements led them to Iowa where their leaders named their new village Amana, which means to “remain true” and comes from Song of Solomon 4:8. They established six villages, two miles apart, on 26,000 acres of a river valley. They shared all resources and properties, working together to provide housing, medical care, food, and schooling to each other. The Village Council assigned jobs yet there were no wages, because no money was needed…nor a police force of any sort. Among them were many skilled craftsmen, and well-crafted products became a hallmark of the Amana Colonies. They gathered for quiet worship and reflection 11 times per week in very simple church buildings. Life was good.

That way of life lasted until the Great Depression. In 1932 they set aside their communal way of life, due partly to a disastrous farm market. They also believed that the communal way of life kept them from achieving individual goals. So, while the communal dream was over, they continued their tradition of community spirit and religious faith. Their expert craftsmanship has been passed on to subsequent generations, which may explain the Amana appliance in your kitchen or laundry room. Thankfully, they also preserved their historic brick, stone and clapboard homes, their gardens and walkways, and their hospitable nature.

High Amana General Store
High Amana General Store

Lil Jan and I did a self-guided walking tour of the village of Amana. We perused several antique stores and watched blankets and clocks being made at the woolen mill and clock factories. Lil Jan bought a historical Christian fiction novel set in Amana. (For historical Christian fiction lovers, it’s by Melanie Dobson and titled Love Finds You in Amana, Iowa.) Not surprisingly, we feasted on a fabulous German meal at the Ronneburg Restaurant, named after that German castle that provided the community refuge in 1714. The waitress explained how the original community operated, and offered insights on the close family bonds and traditions that remain today.

While soaking in the history of this place, we learned of another separatist, communal living group that came to Iowa nine years prior to the people of Amana. Settling just 50 miles away, they also spoke German and wore similar clothing, but were different ethnically and religiously. Despite their close proximity and common roots, these two groups…the Amana people and the Amish people…have had very little interaction through the years.

Master Clock Makers at Work
Master Clock Makers at Work

After touring the Amana colony on foot, we drove through the remaining colonies and then headed back to our base camp in Maquoketah. Today, we were transported back in time to a community that shared a common faith, work ethic, and way of life. They shared their possessions and believed Bible study, prayer, and reflection should characterize one’s faith. I think they were on to something there. If my dream of living at the world’s largest truck stop doesn’t work out, we may give communal living a try.

Big Steve

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