Day 23 – Cars, Planes, and Cemeteries

I was afraid we might have to suspend today in favor of letting my driver recover from a surprise cold, but he woke up refreshed and ready to go. Maybe it was allergies. We did, however, opt for the shorter route today and bypassed three possible stops. They will have to be included in a future trip. These trips always call for some flexibility. And, they keep stretching us.

As we left the breakfast room of the motel, my driver said, “Wait. I want to get a coffee . . . Oh, no I don’t. I want to go to Starbucks.” The lady who was attending the buffet looked up and said, “Oh, can I go to Starbucks, too?” We all laughed. Motel coffee isn’t always the best and even the lady who made it seemed to agree.

Today marks a turning point of the trip, since this morning we are moving back Westward which will eventually lead toward home. For the first time since Montana we were on interstate roads for most of the day. When we turned off of I-71 on to country roads to find our first stop, we saw a farmer picking his beans. Just a little farther down the road we saw another harvesting his corn. Everything is ripe in central Ohio and it’s time to bring the crops in. There were also farms selling pumpkins along the road. The landscape was beautiful rolling hills with lush growth around the streams and rivers. Fields were on the smaller side to accommodate the different elevations of the land. While it was a little hazy, we didn’t see any of the predicted cooling. The car still registered 91 during the hottest part of the day and we didn’t see a cloud in the sky until very late in the afternoon.

We found our first stop about 1:15 on Main Street in Urbana, OH. It was the home of the Champaign Lady B-17 Project. Here was another hangar where a dedicated group of people are reconstructing a B-17 to flying status. This looked like a much more organized endeavor than the Desert Rat restoration. The people were very welcoming and engaged us immediately. I was taken with their large display of women who had flown during WWII. Clearly, they are unsung heroes, but here was this little museum and a group of volunteers who were documenting these women pilots and their contributions. I love it.

The B-17 being reconstructed was taken from a crash site in Alaska. The work began with that wreckage and they added some parts from about four other planes to put together into one plane they hope will someday fly. The folks here say they are “reconstructing” the plane because almost 80 percent of it will have entirely new parts they have built in order to complete the project. They can’t “restore” something if they didn’t have the part in the first place. It was amazing to see guys working as we walked around – one guy actually working on constructing an engine housing he was building from scratch!

The nose of the plane was open, and we could see the bombardier’s chair just sitting there at about eye level. The fuselage was in two pieces and we could look in each side and see how small the interior actually was.  I have to hand it to these guys that just keep at this giant jigsaw puzzle! They’ve been at it for about 10 years and this is how far they have gotten. I hope someday their dream of flying this reconstructed B-17 will be realized. If you’re ever in Urbana and have the time, stop by the Champaign Lady Project. The folks there will welcome you in and inform you about every tiny detail associated with the plane. It was a wonderful experience.

Leaving the hangar at about 2:30 we went in search of food. While I had been taking a few final pictures my driver was looking up a place to go. He took me right to “The Farmer’s Daughter,” only about two miles away. The attractive restaurant was built to look like a barn – but inside were tables and chairs and some of the most delicious food we’d tasted since yesterday. I learned that in Ohio a Texas Tenderloin is none other than what Iowans call a Pork Tenderloin. My decision was made. And, it was fabulous. Love those things – and they are available no where else in the world but in the heart of the Midwest.

A couple more hours of driving and we made camp for the night. My driver elected to take a short nap and I took my walk along the highway and to a local Walmart – just for fun. When I returned we hopped in the car and made our other scheduled stop for the day in Phillipsburg, OH. There is a teeny tiny cemetery there where my 4th great grandmother is buried. Interestingly, many of the head stones were broken and in disrepair so some creative soul had taken all the pieces and made a stepping stone path with them that formed a cross. There in the cross lay the remains of my grandmother’s stone from July 1855. That was five years before the Civil War! My people were here and obviously homesteading. Imagine what life must have been like in those days.

We stayed in the cemetery until the sun set and we watched the sky turn rosy pink as the puffy clouds reflected the glowing rays. It was a slower day than usual because we had taken the fastest route. But, it was full and filled in all the right ways. I spent the evening talking on the phone with three of our four boys who had called to catch up with their wandering parents . . . and there’s no greater grace in the world than being connected with those we love – no matter where we are.