The Beauty of Country Directions

We set out on a treasure hunt with no map. What we found was priceless.

I just have to say, I love country directions. When planning our Sunday Driving vacation (see parts 1, & 2 here), I called my 92-year-old Great Uncle Clarence to see if he had the address to the old farmhouse he and my grandma were born in. He obligingly said, “Better yet, I have directions.” These are those directions.
“First you want to locate the water tower and head straight west. You’ll pass the first cross road and then the second interchange and that’s where the old school house was. Keep going and it is the second farm house on the right.”

I scribbled down what he said and tried to ask for more information. He wasn’t sure of the name of the street. He didn’t know any other landmarks or postal address.

Our adventure begins.

Thankfully for us, the town of Granton,WI is not terribly big and the old water tower was impossible to miss.


The first stop though was the church where Grandma was baptized.


Uncle Clarence was on the building committee for the current structure when he was an adult. We spent some time looking for family names in the Cemetery not realizing that none of them are buried there. But we did recognize some names. Hillert, for instance, comes from the small town of Granton and is responsible for bringing us that wonderful festival setting of “This is the Feast” from the communion liturgy.


After chatting with the pastor a little to explain why we were wandering over the church property, it was time to set out to find the old farm.

So let’s remember the directions… water tower (check), straight west (check), now 2 intersections to where the old school house was. (Check!) and (Check!) But somehow this doesn’t look like what I remember. It is a nice looking farm with a farm house that looks like it was built in the late 19th century, which certainly means it could have been around to shelter my Grandma and her siblings… maybe this was it!


So we did what we’re always telling you to do… we drove up the long drive way and knocked on the door. No answer! We’ll have to come back later. So instead we went to lunch in Neilsville and enjoyed a great meal at a diner owned by some people who loved talking about their town. That will certainly be for another day.

Finally with our strength restored we went back to search for the old farm house. The owners were home this time so we drove up the drive and spoke to the owner. Kirsten (for that was her name) was confused at first but I explained I was trying to find my grandmothers house and showed her the picture from her memoirs. She said, it’s possible it’s the same house and began telling me the history.

“This porch was added on after a big fire at Christmastime, and that 2nd level was added on in 1915… but it’s hard to say from just this picture.”

And then she said the magic words,

“If you’ll pardon the mess, I’ll show you inside. We’re remodeling and we’ve found some hidden treasures within these walls.”


We were excited to get out and stretch our legs (even though our boys are great Sunday drivers, they get pretty antsy). She informed us that they had bought the house and realized the wiring needed to be updated so they opened up the walls to fix that. And as any of you who are in to rehab work know, that is a very messy can of worms to open up. One thing leads to another and soon enough you’re moving staircases, adding bathrooms, and knocking out walls… But by opening that treasure chest, a whole story began to reveal itself.

First by a simple name and a date. It read: B. Tykac 1915. After doing some research she discovered that the entire 2nd floor was built in 1915. She figured this out because every board was stamped with that name and that date. At that time there was a train track that passed behind the back of the property. When Mr. Tykac purchased the materials they were shipped right to his property on the train and to make sure nothing got lost, each one was stamped with his name and the year by the shipping company.

But that wasn’t the only story in the walls. The boards were littered with short poems, games of tic tac toe, and quick calculations all telling the tale of children running around or workers enjoying their lunch break.P7141330

In the living room they discovered another “family” eagerly adding new levels onto their home: the remains of a massive wasps nest from decades earlier! Kirsten wasn’t sure when that wasps’ nest was formed but believed it was some time during the 1960s when 1″ holes were drilled into the outer walls to pump insulation into the 4″ thick walls. (Fun Fact: The 2x4s in this picture are actually 2″ x 4″ unlike modern 2x4s that are more like 1.5″ x 3.5″)


After giving us the nickel tour and showing how much she loved her home she told us that she thinks the house we’re looking for was probably at the next intersection because that first intersection was “a mistake.” (<– Her words, not ours) She said she hopes we found it because she would be reading our blog to hear the tales. We drove away from what she said was once called “One Horse Farm.”

Pressing onward even though the boys were getting quite fussy we drove one more intersection and found a small 1 story farmhouse that looks like it could be from the pictures. The more we looked at it, the more certain we were that this was the home that Grandma Dolores spoke so fondly of. Here it is.

P7141351We couldn’t wait to show Uncle Clarence the pictures to know for sure! Giving a quick thankful honk to our new friends at One Horse Farm, we sped by eager to get back to the cabin retreat in the woods.  (But that will have to wait for another day.)

At the very end of our vacation we had the chance to see Great Uncle Clarence and show him and his wife, Marian, the photos we took. They were overjoyed and excited to see how similar things still looked. This country road picture brought a twinkle of delight into Big Clarence’s eye.


He also knew One Horse Farm and he remembers walking to school across the railroad tracks with the young lad who lived there. This was a shortcut to school. He told us about earning spending money by picking beans for Mr. Tykac in the summer at One Horse Farm. They told us about their first date at the Silver Dome Ballroom (check out this video to see how grand it was!).P7181970

The hunt for the old Pannier farm was reward enough, but the pure delight from Clarence and Marian was the greatest treasure of all.

We can’t wait to share more with you about our vacation. Have you ever been back to a place from your history after years gone by? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Also, don’t forget to like us on facebook and sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Until next time thanks for driving with us.


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The Hidden Joy of Driving in the Rain

Sunday Drives have always been about leisure, comfort, and perhaps a little bit of adventure. (Although I realize that comfort and adventure rarely go hand in hand.) There is always a sense of wanderlust that accompanies you in the car. I remember my grandma Carol telling me how she and her friends would be driving near her home in New Jersey would look at the road signs to see “Buffalo, NY.” They would dream of visiting some day. (Little did she know she would live their and spawn 3 generations of proud Buffalo Bills fans!) I understand that thought. When we try to plan our Sunday Drives I am the dreamer of the family. I try to see just how far we could get in a Sunday Afternoon. Could we make it to the mountains? Could we get in a hike? Kezia is quite good at reminding me that there isn’t quite enough time in an afternoon to make it to Memphis and back. (We’ve timed it, there isn’t. You need just a few more hours.) So you remember what your Sunday drives are really for. Not really for adventure, not really to get away. They are to rest and relax, sure, but they are also to learn the stories down every road and to meet new people. But what do you do when it is raining?P7040346

You go anyway!

Personally, I love driving in the rain. There aren’t too many people on the roads, the colors are always so vibrant (especially in the Summer), and the rain has always been a soothing sound to me. This past weekend we decided to enjoy the Missouri Side of the Great River Road. It isn’t quite as scenic as the Illinois side but it has just as much history. (Subrscribe to Drive by History HERE!) On the way up you pass the historic river towns of Elsberry, Louisiana, and Hannibal (if you drive that far.) You get to see the rich Victorian architecture of the town’s 19th century aristocracy. The landscape is littered with old farm houses to make you swoon. We got to a point where we wanted to get off of the main roads (No offense, Greensfelder) so we turned at the first good looking road we found. That one ended at a water hazard so we had to back up and turn around. The second road lead us to some fantastic rolling hills, some new wild flowers, and a couple of times backtracking the same roads we had already traveled because we like getting lost.P7040345

This could easily have turned in a disastrous drive and it certainly wasn’t The Perfect Sunday Drive (although that day was raining too…) Instead it turned into another one of our favorites. We even got to visit one of our old favorites the Schoppenhorst House in Marthasville. It was hard to find now that the trees and vines had grown up around it. It was nearly covered!P7040492

How do we do it?

You may be wondering how we do it, how we turn even the gloomiest of days into an adventure and I have to tell you it’s all about having the right state of mind.  Here are 3 tips for cultivating the Driving on Sunday Spirit.

1. Don’t be afraid to get lost

It’s easy to let the fear of getting lost overwhelm you but here in America, it’s pretty easy to find your way home. Most people you talk to are going to be willing to give you advice for how to get back to the highway, you probably have a smartphone, and on most Sunday Drives you’re not going to have a chance to find yourself stranded. Do take a turn down that road that catches your eye, but DON’T go any place you don’t feel comfortable.P7040400

2. Don’t be afraid what other people think

People are going to get frustrated and zoom past you. They aren’t Sunday Drivers which is why I recommend you get one of the officially approved Driving on Sunday Warning Labels. But some of this you just have to look beyond. As long as you are staying in the lines and going the speed limit, you shouldn’t be ashamed to be going on a Sunday Drive. Afraid you look like a tourist? Embrace it, YOU ARE A TOURIST! What’s wrong with taking a tour of your home?P7040373

3. Don’t go too far

Like I mentioned earlier, I like to dream big and my wife brings me back down to earth. If you try to get too many miles in one day, you’re going to get worn out, you’re going to get uncomfortable and you are not going to have a good time. I recommend about 4 hours. Too much more than that and you get overwhelmed, too much less and you hardly get outside of your neighborhood. And give yourself time to stop, stretch your legs and smell the flowers. We ended up stopping at an empty funeral home parking lot for a little exercise.P7040453  


What about you?

These are just 3 ways to help cultivate the Driving on Sunday Spirit but it is hardly an exhaustive list. Let us know in the comments what you do to help think more like a Sunday Driver. Until next time, thanks for driving with us!

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Beer Makes Any Drive Better

That’s right folks, beer, Ice-Cold Beer is just the ticket to making any Sunday Drive that much more enjoyable.

HOLD ON before you call the cops…

I’m not saying hop in your car, crack open a cold one and cruise down the highway at 70 miles an hour. That would be irresponsible and with kids in the car! Unthinkable. No what I’m suggesting is to plan into your drives an opportunity to get out of your car, have a nice picnic, let the kids stretch their legs, and crack open a beer. And I can think of almost no better place to do such a thing than Grant’s Farm. (Which happens to be Clarence’s Favorite Sunday Driving Destination.)P7010044

Sure, it may be a bit of a tourist trap.

Read all of the travel magazines, travel blogs, children’s websites, and any other pl ace that publishes lists and Grant’s Farm will be somewhere near the top of the list. So why are we adding to the cacophony of advertisement? Namely because there is so much of a story behind the property, the kids love it, it gets you out of the house, and you get 2 free beers. (Consider that positive reinforcement.)P7010106

Drive by History

Every time we drive down MO-30 Gravois Rd through Sunset hills there are centuries of history right there. We covered some of that in Drive by History Ep. 15 and actually we covered more Gravois Rd History a few weeks ago in Drive by History Ep. 13. Now that you have watched those you know that Gravois was the first paved road in Missouri and this is in large part due to Adolphus Busch (we paid him a visit at Bellefontaine Cemetery) who was annoyed how long it took to get to his country estate. By carriage it was a 2 day trip with a stop half way between the brewery and the farm at a place called Bevo Mill. (If you’re from St. Louis, you’ll recognize this it is the old windmill that is quite out of place amidst the sky scrapers.) This was a tavern and restaurant that Mr. Busch built and began to serve his beer for a cheap price to prove the point that classy restaurants could serve beer. (People thought beer was only a drink for the ball game and the dive bar.) P7010169The half-way house survived prohibition because he was only serving his “near-beer” with “no-alcohol.” After getting fed up with the long trip, he fought to get the road paved and by 1954 it was opened as a tourist destination.

I’ll Grant you one more…

But the history doesn’t just start at Adolphus Busch, it goes back before the civil war. A man by the name of Dent had built his estate there and called it White Hall. His son was stationed with a young Ulysses S. Grant at Jefferson Barracks. As many of you may know, the bonds you make at boot camp are thicker than blood so Grant and Dent became fast friends. Dent brought his friend home to the country estate and Grant met the lovely Julia. Just like Kezia and I, they hardly waited to start dreaming about the alpaca filled future they would have together and were given 80 acres of what is now Grant’s Farm as a wedding gift. From there, the future president Grant would build what is now the last existing house built by the hands of a US president. They didn’t live there very long because Julia didn’t much appreciate moving from White Hall to what they call “Hardscrabble.”P7010035 So shortly before the civil war, they moved back to the estate.

Now get to the beer!

Right, the part that makes it a good Sunday Drive destination. Every year we are fortunate enough to receive an annual parking pass which is a huge money saver. $11 to park a single time or $40 to park as many times as you want. I once heard about a couple of ladies that bought a parking pass and would get their two cold beers every morning at 11:00 AM every day of the summer. P7010053Now that sounds like our kind of women, they like to get out of the house and talk. But once you park the adventure just begins. There is a constant stream of trams that take you through the deer park where you get to see animals from all over the world including cattle, deer, elk, and ostriches.P7010060

P7010099The tour guide gives you a drive by history as you travel and tells you about all of the things you can expect to see when you get up to the Tier Garden. These individuals just love working here, you can tell.P7010107

If you are willing to spend a couple of bucks (no pun intended) you can get your kids a fun pass which includes milk to feed the baby goats, a ride on the carousel and a snow cone. We of course are cheap and never do, and usually the boys don’t throw too much of a fit. They enjoy simply petting the goats and later going to the animal show to see Eagles, Owls, Porcupines and Parrots! P7010136We’ve seen the show about a dozen times now and it never disappoints even though I could probably run the thing myself. From there it is on to see the elephants, monkeys, birds, horses, and of course to get your cold beer.P7010187  P7010226

In the old stables…

The barnhof area, which used to be the old stables for the Busch family is where you finally get your two free beers. There is a biergarten perfect for sitting and relaxing and enjoying your beer and perhaps a bratwurst. (I happen to know the guys who make the bratwurst and DoS will have to pay them a visit soon.) But be sure to go through the stables. P7010253They have several horses and donkeys for the kids to see, they have a fantastic display of all the ribbons and trophies won in equestrian competitions, and my personal favorite a huge collection of antique carriages, sleighs, and even fire engines!P7010266  P7010275(Check one off the Scavenger Hunt!)

After you’ve stretched your legs enough, it’s time to get back on the tram for a short ride back to the parking lot. Every time we go, Clarence talks about it for days. And with all that they have to offer, it’s easy to see why we would need to come up with a euphemism for it to avoid any meltdowns at home.P7010291

I’ve said it before, so what if people think you are a tourist? Embrace it, YOU ARE A TOURIST! What’s wrong with taking a tour of your own home anyway?P7010300

Now that I’ve broken the ice, tell me one of your favorite tourist destinations. We’d love to hear about how you are turning it into a Sunday Drive. Share in the form below.  Until next time, thanks for driving with us!

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I Didn’t See Any Beards in Beardstown

How often have you heard people complain about an upcoming business trip and you think to yourself, “you know I’d gladly make a visit to Columbia or Springfield if it meant getting out of this cubicle for a while.” I’ve certainly heard my fair share and quite frankly I’m sick of it. Well this past weekend we set out to change that mentality by turning one of my business trips into a Sunday Drive. We went to Beardstown and sadly we didn’t see any beards, but we did dig up some awesome history and had an all around great weekend.P5090122

Chances are, you haven’t heard of Beardstown, and I wouldn’t blame you. It is a town of about 5,000 in the middle of Illinois but over the last year it has become a favorite place to visit thanks to this guy, meet Phillip. I met Phillip back in college at a retreat at the seminary in Ft. Wayne and ever since then we’ve enjoyed giving each other a hard time. One of the best times we had was at a Men’s retreat in Cedar Falls, IA in November in which we decided to save money by camping… It was in the single digits that night. Not one of our brightest ideas. Well Phillip spent the last year in Beardstown during his vicarage working with the Hispanic community in the area. Sadly this vicarage has just come to an end, but we were able to get in several fun weekends and a batch of home brewed beer while he was just a few hours away. Believe it or not there is more to Beardstown than just this eligible bachelor (if any of you ladies want to reach out to Bachelor #1, just let us know in the comments) and there is more to a business trip than just making it to the meeting on time.

Our new interest…barn quilts!

One of the things that makes Beardstown an ideal candidate for Business Trip to Sunday Drive conversion is the fact that you can’t take the interstate to get there. The road there takes you rolling merrily along the river roads where you have the opportunity to stop at several historical markers, natural areas, and our favorite Casey’s general store so we can get a Taco Pizza. (We will talk about the wonder that is the Casey’s Taco Pizza in an upcoming post.) These are all factors that contribute to an all around good time. Even if you don’t get a freshly composed song by your 3 year old, a riveting conversation with your wife, or delicious food from America’s most ubiquitous gas station, the drive to Beardstown will have you looking out your window. And we weren’t the first to think so.

Beardstown, IL

Thomas Beard (Hey, I found a beard) looked at Beardstown and declared, “I like this place I shall plant my beard here!” (*Not a real quote) He opened a ferry across the Illinois river and started trading with the Indians to create a nice life for himself and his family. His son Edward “Red” Beard (You think his beard was red?) decided to repay him by getting shot in a bar fight in Kansas. Well after a few years other people started to agree with him and eventually the government decided it would be a good place to store some military surplus so they could fight some Indians.  Who was among this band of soldiers tasked with warding off Chief Blackhawk? Oh you know, Abraham Lincoln, Zachery Taylor, and Jefferson Davis, just some future presidents. Well Lincoln liked the place so much he returned several times to argue cases in the Beardstown courthouse (which is still in use as one of the last remaining Lincoln courthouses.) His most famous Beardstown Trial was the Almanac trial in which William “Duff” Armstrong was accused of murdering James Preston Metzker. A man name Charles Allen claimed he saw ol’ Duff kill him with a slungshot by the light of a full moon. Lincoln slammed down a Farmer’s Almanac and said “Ha! There was no moon on August 29th, 1857. #lawyered.” (*Not a real quote) Thanks to Lincoln, Duff was able to walk away a free man which he remained until 1899.

Thankfully, the history of Beardstown didn’t end with Lincoln and the town continues to grow. Every day 20,000 hogs get slaughtered by a dedicated team of people from almost 35 different countries around the world. (Cue Vicar Phillip) St. John’s Lutheran church has decided that they need to share the gospel with all of these immigrants. So with the help of some very generous people, the LC-MS Office of National Mission, and the Central Illinois District of the LC-MS, they are getting ready to call their third vicar to care for these people through all sorts of programs such as worship services, bible studies, a library full or resources for leaning languages and preparing for tests such as the GED or citizenship, ESL classes, exercise classes and even help getting to the doctor. I’d like to think that this is just the beginning of a very beautiful story and one I get the privilege of hearing almost every day in my work.

*Update: After having a wonderful lunch with my Great Uncle, Rev. Clarence Pannier, I learned that my Great Great Uncle Rev. Carl Eberhardt once served a Lutheran Church in Beardstown! What a small world it is.

We’ll miss having Phillip so close, we made many a trip up to visit. And we broke the 9th commandment several times as we imagined living in that beautiful little house with the green shutters. Clarence spent nearly the entire weekend sitting at the organ bench singing Grandma’s Feather Bed by John Denver. (In case you were wondering, it didn’t sound anything like Grandma’s Feather Bed.) When I asked if he knew any other songs he said “I need a hymnal.” and began reading the notes very intently. I hear that St. John’s is looking for a new organist, maybe he can fill that role.P5080063

Have I convinced you to turn your business trips into a Sunday Drive? Well maybe this will convince you. On Sunday before we left, I went for a walk just after sunrise up into the bluffs. I saw one of the most spectacular views of the countryside, saw wild turkeys, and picked a bouquet of wildflowers for my wife (it was mother’s day afterall.) I’ve never been more relaxed in my entire life. And that all happened on a business trip.P5090119

So do me a favor, the next time you’re on a business trip, take some pictures and tag them with #drivingonsunday. Or just tell us about them with the form below.

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We Covered a Bridge

Maybe it’s a bit kitschy, but we visited a covered bridge and had a good time doing it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (we were made fun of one time when we took the old highway instead of the interstate just so we could drive across one. But you know what? Other than the whining- not toddlers- college students in the back seat, it was one of the best road trips we’d ever taken). You may be interested to know that there actually is a reason they covered the bridges and it wasn’t just so that couples could kiss on it or so the bridge could be on the cover of a Calendar 100 years later. They covered them because most of these bridges were built with wood, the covering on them helped to keep the wood from rotting out rendering the bridge useless. This greatly extended the life of these bridges. One of the geniuses in the world of bridge design was a man named William Howe.P5025125 William Howe was one of 9 kids, many of whom became inventors in their own right. One of his brothers invented the first commercially viable sewing machine and another invented the box spring mattress. So tonight when you struggling to go to sleep, think how many Howes it took to bring that mattress to you. So far I’m counting three as long as you consider that most modern bridges incorporate some of the principles of the William Howe Truss design. William began working in a construction company that specialized in Church buildings, but his passion was in bridge building. He designed the original Howe Truss design and had it patented. He partnered up to form a bridge building company and later sold that patent to his partner so that he could experiment with an improvement on that design. The bridge that we visited is one of the few historic Howe Truss bridges west of the Mississippi and one of only 3 left in Missouri.

The Sandy Creek bridge was built for $2,000 in the 1870s as part of a series of 6 bridges connecting the road from Hillsboro to St. Louis County. This was to make it easier for Jefferson County and St. Louis County to work together. Less than 15 years later a heavy flood wiped out the bridge, but the order was given to replace it immediately and reconstruction began. The project cost only $1000 and used more than half of the original timbers. With the exception of a couple of refurbishments over the years, the bridge that stands today is all original and was open to traffic up until the 1980s. P5025046Now the road ends in a small state park which is perfect for picnics, swimming, and photo ops (which is what we used it for.) We shared our video of the bridge’s history and many people who grew up in St. Louis shared their fond memories of swimming underneath the bridge. Over all, a great destination for a Sunday Drive and a Sunday picnic.

P5025154Until next time, thanks for driving with us.

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Becky Thatcher, Quiche, and Riverboat Explosions

In the past, I have been called an “Arch Conservative who would be more comfortable in the 1800s.” So needless to say it didn’t take me long to get my sea legs when we went for an Arch riverboat cruise down the Mississippi. Now, I know what you are saying, that’s so touristy! There’s nothing historic about those boats down by the arch, why would you waste your money on one of those? Well I have two answers for you:

1. We didn’t, we wasted my parent’s money because they got us a couple of tickets for a Sunday Brunch Cruise hoping we would give them a shout out on the blog. Thanks Dad! Thanks Mom! It was great and not at all a waste!
2. So what? Just because you can’t prove that Abraham Lincoln did something to, with, in, on, or near something doesn’t mean you can’t use it to dig up some history. (Which by the way, Ole Abe was known for traveling on Riverboats.)

Using that as a Ham handed Segue P4184384

I’m going to talk about how cool riverboats are. (You of course would already know this if you had watched Drive By History Ep. 4 – Riverboats on the Mississippi)

Riverboats during the 19th century were powered by steam and usually built with wood. And as you can imagine, these boats would often catch fire. There is a good story right there, people would race these riverboats and people on the shore would place bets on which boat was the fastest. Engineers would get these boilers pumping red hot and eventually the whole thing would explode! After a few of these explosions, they figured they were safer if they didn’t race them and in the end decided to just run casino’s on them because none of the states had jurisdiction on the interstate waterways and they could get away with it. But then some slick card shark would come in and try to slip a few extra aces into the game and… let’s just say, the Mississippi Catfish had some good meals. In fact, so much happened on board them that Mark Twain wrote an entire book about his experiences piloting one. His book chronicles everything from the first settlers to the civil war in that great Mark Twain style.P4184423

P4184518Well, thankfully there were no flaming explosions, card game induced shoot-outs, or man eating catfish on our cruise and we got to enjoy a taste of the high life on board the Becky Thatcher. The band was already warmed up when we got on board. Dan and Dave played all the old standards and got Clarence’s feet moving. (He recently learned about tap dancing and can’t get enough of that rhythm.) But all that dancing got our appetites worked up and we eagerly awaited permission to dig into the all you can eat buffet. They served french toast and eggs, cheese blintzes, roast beef, mashed potatoes, pastas, salads, fruit salads, and several different kinds of desserts. I definitely went back for fifths seconds. P4184459 Unfortunately we didn’t have long to eat because Clarence had heard about the upper decks and wanted to see for him self. So we climbed the stairs up to the Hurricane Deck (watch the video and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) We couldn’t have picked a better day to go, the sun was shining, there was a slight breeze, it wasn’t too hot or too cold and you’ll rarely get a better view of the St. Louis Skyline. The whole day was a fantastic experience and one I won’t soon forget. And thankfully no one else will because apparently our boys were the cutest ones on the boat and their photographers hoped to cash in on that for their next line of brochures. So do us a favor, if you see our boys on a brochure for a Riverboat Cruise, take a sharpie and right #drivingonsunday.P4184551

Now I know, we don’t typically travel by boat anymore, but I want to hear from you, what are some of your favorite memories on board a boat? Did you ever go on a Cruise in the Caribbean? Or take a ferry late at night to catch a concert in the town across the bay? Tell us about it! I’m sure we can dig up some stories.

Until next time Thanks for driving with us!


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Look what we found around this corner!

Do you remember when we first started, we told you about “that road”? You know, the road around the corner that catches your eye for some inexplicable reason? What could be down that road? A farm? An old forgotten house? Maybe a church! It turns out that down that small quaint dirt road pictured in our previous blog post, there was a church that had been the cornerstone of the community since 1880 when German immigrants came and settled there. The church is St. John’s Lutheran church, the place is Owensville, MO, and the stories were definitely worth the drive.P3213430

Kezia and I have always shared a love of driving and talking. I have many fond memories of being stuck in Chicago traffic with her when we were dating. Our best conversations take place while we’re cruising around in a car.  Several months ago we were driving back from a visit with my sister and her boyfriend in northern Missouri. It was a long drive, but thankfully, the boys fell asleep (If you are parents, you’ll understand why that is noteworthy. Sleeping children make any drive more enjoyable). We talked about our future home and land, and surmised about the stories behind the country homes we were passing. And eventually we passed not one, but two churches! The second of which is St. John’s Lutheran Church.P1251578It was late on Sunday afternoon and church had long since let out, but there was still a sense of community. The well kept church yard was welcoming, the sign invited us to join them for worship on Sunday mornings, the two room school house beckoned to a rich history of Christian education, and the well loved grave yard showed a history of those who have lived and died as part of this church and all of them have stories. One of the things I like to do when I visit a church is to look for family names which have been around for the most generations because that family probably has the most to say on the subject of that church. This way, if I ever came back, I would know who to ask.P1251580We were able to return for worship with them on Palm Sunday of this year. When we woke up that morning we shook our heads and scoffed when we heard our two year old announce that it was snowing. It had barely snowed all winter! It had been 60 degrees the day before. But like Mark Twain once said “If you don’t like the weather in Missouri… wait 5 minutes.” But, he was right.

As foolhardy Sunday drivers we always worry more about whether or not their will be weather rather than what the weather will be and of course we decided to strike on down the road regardless. It was nearly white out conditions at several points. But, we made it the 1.5 hours with just a little time to spare to ask the usher the procedure for communion. The tiny church was packed! Everyone was singing, and the children of the congregation eagerly participated in the traditional procession of the palms. Kezia and I enjoyed singing the liturgy (from the Red Hymnal) in four part harmony and afterwards Clarence enjoyed the fresh baked cookies while I learned the story of the church.P3213393

Remember when I was telling you about looking for family names in the cemetery? On our first visit to the deserted churchyard I had noticed one name which (by observing the dates) had been there since the beginning in 1880. That name showed up again that Sunday morning. I met a man named Lee Wehmeyer who was tickled to share his knowledge of his home congregation. He said that the church always had a one room school house and decided to expand it to make a two room school house for the growing number of students. In 1949 they laid the cornerstone for St. John’s Lutheran School. In 1950 the pastor and school master took a call to another church and no classes ever took place in the new school building. Now the building is used for bible classes, spaghetti suppers, and voters meetings. But school or no school, the church is still alive.

Mr. Wehmeyer, apart from being a pillar in this congregation comes from a long line of carpenters. In 1929 the economy was depressed and there wasn’t much work for a carpenters in small town America. So given the extra time his father and grandfather offered to remodel the church. They expanded the sanctuary and by 1929 had added a beautiful hand crafted altarpiece that rivals (at least in beauty if not in size) any you would see in the big cathedrals. P3213370

Unfortunately, this church is falling victim to the current reality that people are not only leaving the country for jobs in the city, but are often leaving the church altogether. Though this small church still has 40-50 people in the pews most Sundays, part of their stability is due to the loving service of Rev. Landgraf who serves not just one parish but another a few towns over.

The countless stories found in many of these small churches are still out there and perhaps if we channel a little bit of the spirit of those Wehmeyer carpenters from the great depression we can help shine some light on them.

Do you have a story that you would like to preserve? Tell us about it at

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Cliff Hanging and BBQ

St. Albans is another one of those places that you just have to stumble on. It’s well off the main drag and it looks like any other suburban neighborhood from the outside. And like most neighborhoods, there are some great stories hidden in plain sight.P4043543

As early as 1804, Lewis and Clark heard from the Native Americans and French Fur Traders that this was the cool place to stay because of Tavern Cave (Famous for the coldest ales and the cheapest eats… wait that’s Fast Eddies.) Tavern Cave was popular because it was big, it was sheltered, and it was right beside the Missouri River. Well because they didn’t have to waste any time setting up camp Merriweather Lewis decided to climb up the bluffs to see if he could get a better view to plan their travel for the next day and on his way up he slipped and fell almost 300 feet to only to be stopped when he jammed his knife straight into the side of the rock wall narrowly escaping an early and tragic end to the famous expedition. (I’m still crying bologna sandwich on this… guys are good at puffing up their stories and ML is no different.) Well the story doesn’t stop there. Just like the last 2 times old Lou and Clark showed up on our blog, someone decided that would be a good place to settle down. By 1892 there were several grand country homes and a store that still sits in its original location (it’s on the national register of historic places). Over time it featured a favorite hunting club and in 1988 was purchased to make way for the planned community you see now; complete with two 18 hole golf courses.

The river has changed course, and then was moved when they decided to widen and deepen it to make shipping easier. Tavern cave is no longer a hoppin’ place. In fact, you can’t even access it. There is a nice historical marker randomly placed to tell you it’s about a mile “that way” so I’m not real sure where it is. But that shouldn’t stop you from making a visit to little St. Albans. P4043621

There is a little lake that we like to walk around. It’s scenic, there’s a small beach with a nice playground, and there are turtles that plop into the water as you walk by. It’s an easy breezy walk.
One time that we went to St. Albans, minus children, we heard a freight train approaching slowly. The tracks cut right in front of the general store, and we joked to each other that if we drove a train, we’d hop out and get a piece of pie when we passed. We were tickled when the train engineer did just that! That simple slowed down moment endeared St. Albans to us forever. How we wish that Clarence could have seen it! Here he is on his own set of tracks.P4043665When you are good and tired, go into Head’s store and get some lunch. They have a great deli which is open 7 days a week but on the weekends you can taste some of that mouth watering Pappy’s BBQ from the city (they almost always sell out within a few hours at their flagship store downtown, so this is a great way to get your hands on some Pappy’s without waiting in long lines).P4043680P4043685 On this visit we met a fellow Sunday Driver named Mark. Normally he prefers hikes and takes pictures of stunning scenery but today he decided to rest his legs and go for a Sunday Drive, which we were excited to hear. I asked him for his favorite Missouri spots to visit and he said the Ozark trail is a must. He’s hiked all 300 miles of it several times in his life (not all at once, I asked).P4043585

Stay a while and be sure to talk to people at the store. The St. Albanites always seem happy to welcome us and are eager to tell about the area.
Until next time, thanks for Driving with Us.



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Cool People Use Maps

This is part II of a series on Maps. Read part I here.

There are few skills as fulfilling as navigating by map and compass. Chopping wood? Weak. Sculpting? Common. Driving? Really now… that is a basic necessity if you are reading this blog. I think I have made my point… Nothing is more skillful and savvy than reading a map and compass. But because I like to beat a dead horse, I’ll tell you a story.

I (Aaron) remember during 6th grade camp at Trout Lodge we had an orienteering competition. We all broke off into groups of 5 and were assigned a camp counselor to make sure we didn’t do anything stupid. (We were 6th graders after all.) The idea was to find a set of pre-placed markers and make it back before any of the other groups. Well I am pleased to say that my group won that competition by at least an hour. The only downside was that I spent the rest of the evening picking thorns and burrs out of my legs, and the rest of the week scratching my poison ivy (but trust me, there is nothing more manly than having battle scars from your heroic expedition. I didn’t mind too much). None of this would have been possible without my map and my compass.

Thankfully for you, you don’t have to bush wack through the Ozarks to get the thrill of a good map. There are plenty of ways to enjoy a map while staying on a well maintained trail or road. The first way is to use a highway map. The most basic of which are the State Highway maps you can pick up for free at just about any rest stop.

1. They are free. Literally they are free. I’ve heard that if you are a AAA member you can just put in a call and they will send you as many as you want. One of my friends claims to have wallpapered his room with highway maps as as child. I never saw pictures so I’m sure it never happened, but the thought is rather pleasing. You can pick up a copy of your state highway map at the DMV, most rest stops, some truck stops, and in some states you can even just download them or order them online. (I’ve personally enjoyed this page of historic maps, but we will get to using historic maps in another post.)

Even a good map can’t prepare you for everything.

2. They are simple to use… if you stay on major roads. Interstates, US Highways, most state roads, some county roads, and major city roads are usually included on the map. Notable landmarks such as major cities, highest points, forested areas, and bodies of water also show up clearly on the map and can help to give you a good bearing.


1. You have to learn how to fold a map (I tried finding a link to a video about the struggles of map folding, but all of them involved profanity of some sort. That should give you an idea of the rage and fury this task brings forth.) I think highway maps were passed down to us from a race of Origami masters who are now extinct. I’m not entirely convinced they weren’t wiped out in an unsuccessful attempt to spare the world of their plight.

2. It is easy to get lost. Because they are limited by their size (the whole map has to fit on 1 page) they often miss out what would be important landmarks that could help you find your way. They also misstate the size of roads and bodies of water. Often a road looks like it crosses a river. But under further inspection with a microscope you realize that there is a gap and you end up having to turn around at the one house with the rottweiler, the confederate flag, and shirtless man with a shotgun at the ready.

3. Because of Con #1 you can’t simply glance down at the map while you are driving to get your bearings. You have to stop, pull over, grab a roll of tape or a weight to hold down the massive sail you are about to unfurl or else you’ll be carried off like Dorothy and Toto into someplace like Kansas. (We’re in Missouri, I’m just a little bit partial. If I had the choice between Oz and Kansas, I wouldn’t be tapping my ruby slippers anytime soon.)

So with the score now 2-3, I can safely say that using a free highway map is a harrowing (ergo character building) endeavor which all of you should try. But if you feel like seeing what other options there may be, I suggest you wait until the next time I decide to talk about maps in which I will discuss the timeless Road Atlas.

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Dead Men Tell Great Tales

If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, “Dead Mean Tell Great Tales.” This is the reason I tell you to look at the names in church cemeteries. A couple weeks ago we took our own advice and went to go visit the 314 acre home of more than 87,000 graves and mausoleums stretching back into the early 1800s at Bellefontaine Cemetery. (That’s prounounced “Bell-Fountain.”) There are countless stories waiting to be told from the lives of those whose bodies reside there, but we will only scratch the surface with this post. But we do know that the story all starts with a man named Edward HempsteadP3263778

Edward Hempstead was an early settler of the Louisiana Frontier. In fact he was so early that he helped rename it “Missouri” so that we wouldn’t confuse it with the state of Louisiana down south. It has been said that few men were more influential in the drive to Missouri Statehood than this man and in fact he likely would have been named Missouri’s First US Senator had he not died in an unfortunate horse accident and instead became the first person to be buried at Bellefontaine CemeteryP3263744

Mr. Hempstead was so well loved that his friend Thomas Hart Benton (you would have heard this story if you had listened to our “Drive By History” lesson) had to tell Charles Lucas that their duel would have to wait for a few days while he sat in wake for his friend. A few days later, the men traveled to Bloody Island (a small wooded sand bar in the Mississippi River where people would duel because it wasn’t under the jurisdiction of either Missouri or Illinois,) and had their duel. And after being shot in the knee and shooting Charles Lucas in the throat he was named one of Missouri’s first senators in place of Mr. Hempstead. (I’m sure those aren’t related in any way shape or form.) Thomas Hart Benton had much to say during his political career including being an advocate for hard currency (gold or specie), opposing the Bank of the United states (if only to support “General Jackson” who survived a duel with Benton carrying a bullet in his shoulder for the rest of his life.), the merits of dueling (This guy really liked dueling. I’d recommend not getting on his bad side. You’ll either get shot, beaten, or impeached) , and even authored one of the first Homestead acts.P3263813

This is just one of the countless stories you’ll find at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

If you stop at the visitors center and ask for a map, they’ll give you a map with 50 markers showing the most popular grave sites to visit. They also have a civil war map showing you the locations of some important figures in Missouri civil war history. As much as we tell you to go on the road less traveled, I definitely recommend seeing everything on the well marked main road. Some of these mausoleums would put a small country church to shame, complete with stained glass, altars, and one even sported a baptismal font. (Theologically, I’m really puzzled by this one.)P3263771

One grave that surprised me was a man named “Vest.” He has a simple grave stone about 50 from the road, and unless it were marked on the map you’d likely never find it. Mr. Vest first coined the phrase “Man’s best friend” in reference to dogs. (Yet another thing you can thank Missouri for.)

Other notable people you will find there are William Clark (you know from the Lewis and Clark Expedition), Adolphus Busch (founder of Anheuser Busch), the first several governors from Missouri, the woman responsible for the first women’s suffrage case to the supreme court. You might even find a story about your neighborhood.

P3263785One man named David R. Francis served as Governor of Missouri 1889-1893 and owned a large property in the St. Louis Hills (west side of St. Louis) and operated a dairy farm after his time in office. Mr. Francis was appointed president in charge of the World’s Fair in 1904 (he wanted to do it on his property but they convinced him to do it in Forest Park) and later served as Ambassador to Russia in 1916. In 1917 he donated his land to the city and now Francis park is a perfect place to shatter your nose in a particularly violent game of ultimate Frisbee (or so I’ve been told… It’s not like I have a $15,000 surgery bill to show for it or anything.) His grave is pictured above, where a robin sings cheerfully, despite the gloomy shrouded statue.

Having just scratched the surface, I hope I encouraged you to go digging around in cemeteries (I meant that in a metaphorical sense…not with a shovel). See what tales you can find and be sure to share them with us at

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