A Little Bit of Roadside Americana

Rerun from September 31, 2007:

One morning I was cleaning out the storage section of my car’s passenger door to find all kinds of hidden treasure… a script for HELEN, yet another play written by Euripides about Helen of Troy, several receipts, notes on different kinds and styles of humor from my humor class, some Costco coupon books, and one more that I decided is a “keeper.”

It’s a complimentary roadmap I picked up at a Cracker Barrel country store. This is a map of the United States, and lists the locations for 550 locations of its restaurants that cover 41 states, with more opening all the time. Lest you think this post is an advertisement for the restaurant chain, it isn’t, but this is one of the few cheap restaurants where you can order real vegetables to eat whenever you travel.

What struck me about this particular map was the mention of four wayside attractions for travelers who like to check out the “oddities” and “wayside wonders” that make America’s back roads and its people so varied and interesting. Here are those and more I discovered in further research for the post.

As with any trip, a good place to begin is with a hearty breakfast. How do you like your eggs? Did I hear you say BIG? Well, in Winlock, Washington you can see one of the world’s largest eggs sitting in the center of town, but it would be pretty tough for you to crack this one! This concrete egg is over 12 feet long and weighs an astonishing 1,200 pounds. But is it the biggest?

Not if you ask the residents of Mentone, Indiana. Their egg stands 10 feet tall, and weighs 3,000 pounds. Okay, I’ll just give them a little plug here seeing as how they gave me the map and all, Cracker Barrel recommends you visit both eggs the next time you’re “scrambling around the country.”

Now that we know where the largest eggs can be found, why don’t we find the world’s largest frying pan? Anyone who’s ever been in a Cracker Barrel knows that you can find frying pans of all sizes, but the largest one known is In Rose Hill, North Carolina. Theirs is completely functional, and in fact they use it several times a year for charitable cooking and community celebrations.

Now that we’ve had our eggs, how about a cup of tea? You can find the world’s largest teapot in Chester, West Virginia. It sits on Route 30 next to a highway on-ramp, surrounded by a fence. Apparently the fence is a good idea since there “used to be” a matching creamer too.

In order to get the cream for that missing creamer, we’ll have to criss-cross the country to Wisconsin where we’ll find the world’s largest talking cow. There’s a larger cow in Salem Sue, North Dakota, but Chatty Belle in Wisconsin is a “talking” cow, though the word is she hasn’t actually talked since 2002. When she does feel like talking, this is what she says,

“Hi, so nice to see you. My name is Chatty Belle and beside me is my son, bullet. Bullet doesn’t talk yet but he’s learning. What’s your name? Well, nice to meet you. Did you know I’m the world’s largest talking cow? I’m 16 feet high at the shoulders and 20 feet long, seven times as large as the average Holstein.”

We all know that Texas likes to brag about how big things are there, right? Well, check out these really big heads someone discovered near Houston. Apparently there’s a sculpture storage in the warehouse district near Summer Street where, if you’re lucky, you might see these or other really, really big heads. Actually, they’re giant heads of U.S. Presidents by a Texas artist named David Adickes.

If you like snakes, and while we’re in Texas, you could check out this snake and exotic animal farm just south of Austin off Interstate 35 on the way to San Antonio. Since I personally don’t care for snakes, I’ll wait this one out while you go ahead.

Now we near the end of our virtual roadside journey. Here’s a sobering thought. With all the cars that traverse this big country of ours, you can bet on a fair number of traffic accidents that result in a whole lot of bent car bumpers that will eventually wind up in a scrap metal heap someplace, and then what? Brundidge, Alabama has an answer in one of the most unique sights the highways and byways has to offer. It’s a large rooster made completely with old car bumpers.

I first published this as an article at http://www.Elderstribune.com on Saturday, and oddly enough new entries about roadside travel attractions started popping up everywhere. A reader comment on that post reminded me of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota which she had first seen years ago. Then lo and behold when I opened the travel section of my local newspaper this morning, there it was again–the world’s only Corn Palace. It has just undergone an extreme makeover that you can read more about here. You won’t find stuff like this in Europe, folks!

Then last night, as I was TV channel hopping, I chanced to see a presentation about still more roadside oddities. If this sort of thing interests you, check your local public television listings to see if the Rare Visions & Revelations roadtrip show is available in your area. Or go online where you can read about the peeing concrete ox named Old Faithful at the Prairie Schooner Cafe in Three Forks, Montana. When the clerks inside happened to notice people gathered around the oxen in front, they would turn on the spitgot and the tourists would get a big surprise.

But the Prairie Schooner and the oxen have since been bulldozed in the interest of new development. And who knows how long the other oddities mentioned here will survive progress. With McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subways monopolizing the landscape and making one little town pretty much like any other, it’s one thing that makes American backroad art uniquely American. Enjoy it while you can.

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3 thoughts on “A Little Bit of Roadside Americana

  1. The first time I drove across country, in 1955, each town was unique with only an occasional Sears or Montgomery Wards in some of the county seats. Now you can go from one place to another hundreds of miles away and never feel like you’ve gone anywhere.

  2. Much of that sort of roadside American is rapidly vanishing. I’m so sorry to miss that cow when she was talking and the oxen when he peed. Here in Lemon Grove, which used to have miles of Lemon groves, there remains one lemon as a symbol of the community. It’s a huge lemon yellow lemon. As tall as a house, it sits mid city waiting for revitalization which hasn’t come yet.

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