Oddball Iowa : A Guide to Some Really Strange Places, by Jerome Pohlen
Oddball Iowa : A Guide to Some Really Strange Places is the newest installment in a nine-book series written by Jerome Pohlen. These unusual works provide guidance to finding little-known and certainly underappreciated tourist attractions in states from Colorado and Texas to Indiana and Wisconsin. On road trips and field assignments, I have zigzagged my way through Iowa a number of times over the years, but somehow I have missed most of the wonders he profiles in this new book. By my count, the author features at least 112 locations in Iowa and mentions scores more in the sidebar boxes that appear on nearly every page.
The material in the book is geographically organized, starting in the northwest and moving to the east before zigging back to the southwest. The prose is easy to read, with just enough sense of humor to ensure that the reader keeps chuckling -- if not laughing out loud -- throughout the book. There are several black-and-white photographs that serve to "prove" that these often zany attractions really do exist. Each of the featured locations include information about driving directions, cost, address, and hours. In addition, Pohlen provides a nearly ceaseless stream of trivia about the state and its remarkable citizenry. Some of my favorites include the arcane laws that the author has discovered. For instance, did you know that in Fort Madison, all firefighters must -- by law -- practice for fifteen minutes before commencing their attack on the fire? Or that if a man wants to wink at a woman in Ottumwa, he must know her first? This is important stuff to know, especially the next time you find yourself in Ottumwa!
From reading this book, I came to the conclusion that there seem to be an abnormally high number of UFO and sightings and crop circle reports in Iowa. Perhaps those "little green men" were simply looking for the "World's Smallest Church" (in Festina) or a glimpse of the phantom dog that is said to guard the top step at the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery in Palo. Or maybe they were just looking for some ice cream. The Wells Dairy in Le Mars produces over 100 millions gallons of ice cream each year under the Blue Bunny label.
This book is a treasure trove of good ideas for road trippers seeking the absurd or at least the unusual. One of the events I learned about from this book that I hope to check out later this summer is an interstate tug-of-war known as Tug Fest. Representatives from Le Claire, Iowa, attempt to pull their counterparts from the town of Port Bryon, Illinois, into the Mississippi River. The rope they use is 2,400 feet in length and weighs 680 pounds! All barge and pleasure boat traffic on the river is suspended while this unique contest is waged. Sounds like a perfect excuse for a road trip!
If you find that your road trip plans include
travel to any section of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin,
Ohio, Colorado, Minnesota, Florida, or Texas, I recommend
that you pick up one of these Oddball Guides and go
check out some of these truly incredible and slightly unusual
examples of roadside Americana.