Dave Volk: Down The Road - 2014-3

December 3, 2014 

Arrive in Springfield, IL late afternoon after a long drive across Missouri. My buddy Duff is kind enough to have some good old fashioned, comfort food for dinner -- a delicious pot roast.

After that we settle in for some ‘tall tale telling.’ Over the years my friends from the Vietnam Veteran’s Leadership Program have told and re-told stories of when we would gather in DC. Needless to say the stories have had a lot of exaggerated topspin put on them.

Volk 3 Lincolns 350I am up early and off to the Lincoln Museum and it is a real treasure, a wonderful mix of the latest special effects and solid historical artifacts. Many of the exhibits and programs do not allow photography so I am left with this cheesy, tourist-shot of me with the family.

I am always amazed at how close all of us our to our past. When I was in college, working for Congressman Ben Reifel, I once escorted Alice Longworth Roosevelt up to a mountain in the Black Hills to dedicate Mount Roosevelt.

Alice’s father, Teddy, was alive when Lincoln was alive.

Alice, by the way was quite the character, and was a young woman when her father was president. Back in a day when young ladies were supposed to be sedate and demure -- Alice was a hell raiser. After a report of another one of her escapades a reporter asked Teddy what he was going to do about Alice, to which T.R. supposedly replied: “I can run the country or I can run Alice, but I can’t do both.”

Volk 3 Lady 350Although she was an elderly lady at the time I was with her she hadn’t lost any of her spunk and kept us in stiches all day.

Previously I mentioned that I prefer driving in gloomy weather but that does not extend to the driving rain that greets me all the way from Springfield to Paducah, KY. A long, wet day.

I stop in a small town for gas and lunch and have a delicious bowl of soup at a place called “Home Cookin’. That it was, though we usually had Campbell’s at the Volk household.

I have vowed to eat better on this trip and have sworn off junk food. I even have a motto to celebrate this new regimen: “Lips that touch Twinkies will never touch mine.” It is a paraphrase from the old Women’s Temperance League pledge: “Lips that touch alcohol will never touch mine.” We’ll see how long all of this lasts. Am taking no bets.

I reach Paducah late afternoon and I am shot. Hours of white-knuckle driving in torrential rain has drained me. Too tired to go to downtown Paducah that I found so charming last year, I end up at a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings. Which are neither wild, buffalo or junk! Between the crowd noise and the 85 TVs going I am in sensory overload in short order. Things get better when the university of Kentucky basketball fans start to leave. They had been watching their Wildcats beat Montana State 86-28. That must have been exciting.

The next day it is a short trip of only 140 miles to Nashville where I will spend the night.

Nashville is bittersweet as it is good to see my longtime friends, but sad with Harlan’s passing just a few months ago. We enjoy each other’s company telling warm stories of this wonderful man.

Volk 3 Friends01 350Volk 3 Friends02 350

The next morning I am off to Atlanta and look forward to staying in the same place for a few days.

As I mentioned I will do Thanksgiving with my dear friends the Smiths. I wonder if, down south, they have different dishes. Will grits replace the scalloped corn, will collard greens replace the green bean casserole? Whatever it is it will be delicious as Margaret is a great cook.

Coming out of Nashville I slow into a nasty traffic jam and then 50 miles from Atlanta I hit another one. I am used to South Dakota driving where I can travel the 350 miles from Rapid City to Sioux Falls on Interstate 90 and not see 30 cars. In short -- I have no patience for traffic jams.

My helpful GPS warns me to expect traffic congestion with average speeds of 5 mph. Hell, at some spots in my slog 5 mph is optimistic. We are in true ‘parking lot’ mode.

Having grown up on the mostly treeless prairie I for the most part love the drive down through Tennessee mountains and forests, especially the winding climb up to Mount Eagle and then the descent into Chattanooga. For the fourth time I miss the Choo-Choo but it’s still on my list.

When I hit the Atlanta traffic jam I remember that I had the same problem going down Interstate 75 last year and found a way to get off at Clarksville and bypass the interstate by using HWY 41. However, that ole 41 is difficult to locate. I finally stop at a gas station and ask directions. The place is run by an elderly lady, who is one of those darling people who give you driving instructions as if you have lived in the city for 50 years: “Well you just go down here 6 blocks or so until you get to the old Johnson’s place and then take a left until you get to where the Stonewall Jackson School stood before it burned down, then go right.” Eventually my GPS gets me to 41.

I finally reach my friends in Marietta, GA, and it is so nice to finally unpack, do laundry and settle into the ‘Volk Room’ and stay for a few days.

The Smith’s have 3 delightful cats who aren’t spoiled a whisker.

Volk 3 Skip 350

In downtown Marietta I even find a touch of home.

Volk 3 DakotaStore 350

Thanksgiving is wonderful and delicious and the scalloped corn and green bean casserole are in attendance. Also a delicious old family tradition called banana salad……great!

The Bears lose in football, but I am getting used to that. I realize I have much to be thankful for this 2014. Certainly the least not being friends like Skip and Margaret who invite this wandering Yankee to their southern Thanksgiving table.

On Saturday I am off early headed down the highway towards Longboat Key and pass downtown Atlanta, whose spires are beautiful in the early light. What a contrast from 150 years ago this very year, then this great city was in ashes as Sherman torched it on his march to the sea.

I stick to my regimen of eating healthier and bypass McDonald’s for the Farm House restaurant. I pass on the low-fat quail but do have a hearty vegetable beef soup and some corn bread that melts in your mouth. I also renew my love of the sweet drawl of southern waitress -- “What’ll ya have, darlin.”

One of my favorite parts of this annual trip is watching the temperature climb as I travel down south. As I cross the famous Suwannee River of the ballad it is a balmy 72.

However, I quickly reach the John Steinbeck quote portion of my journey: “The trip was over but I wasn’t home yet.”

I finally pull into Casa Del Mar and know I am home when I spot the sun drop into the gulf.

Volk 3 Sunset 350

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and thanks for coming along ‘Down the Road.’ 

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November 26, 2014

Volk Drake 400My “Little Brother” Drake came over Wednesday night to help me load up the car.   While I have enjoyed his company for the past 10 years, I am finding I also appreciate his 17 year-old muscles when it comes to heavy lifting.   After dinner I drop him off and he decides maybe he should leave his school backpack in my car and then tell his mother he will have to go to Florida to retrieve it.    Good luck, Pal.

While I hadn’t planned on leaving until early Friday morning, by Thursday noon everything is ready and see no reason to put off getting down the road.  So…what the hell…tally ho!

As I head south on Interstate 29 I rack my brain trying to think of what I have forgotten.   I do this every year even though, in my heart of hearts, I know the only packing mistake has been over packing.   A bad habit I can’t seem to shake even though this is my fourth road trip south.

Beautiful day to be rolling along and although I have traveled these eastern SD roads for many years I still marvel at the flatness of its expanse.  Governor Daugaard probably explained it best when he said:   “South Dakota is so flat if your dog ran away you could watch him for two days.”

Feels good to be back on the road and my Grisham book on tape starts out with great promise.

I make St. Joe around 5:30 pm and after unpacking I am famished as I only had a late breakfast.   So around 6:30 I make my way to a restaurant called 36th Street.

Being this close to Kansas City I have to order BBQ ribs.   A little while later my waitress brings me a platter of them that looks like something for passing at a family gathering.   It is mammoth!   So I start to eat, idly watching the Thursday night football game.   After awhile I finally look down and am shocked to see the wreckage of my rib plate.   Bones picked clean as far as the eye can see.   A ravenous scavenger on the Serengeti plains of Africa could not have picked bones this clean.  

Feeling pretty good about this, I have some cute banter with my two waitresses.   I then go to my room to finally get my deliciously sticky fingers clean when I see that I have a large swath of BBQ sauce on my cheek.   Oh, you are a cool one, Mr. Volk.

Although the service and food was excellent, I won’t be going back to 36th Street Bar.  Can just hear Tammi say to Brenda:   “Oh look, ‘Sauce Boy’ is back.”   

Volk kim 400

Throughout all of my travels around this country I have noticed one constant -- people who work in Convention and Visitors Bureaus are some of the nicest people on the planet and that includes those at my CVB back in Sioux Falls.   I don’t just mean helpful friendly, which is their job, but just nice people.   It holds true with Kim of the St. Joe CVB who helps plan my museum schedule.

 The Patee House is an old hotel that has been turned into a first class museum that houses outstanding exhibits and a rich history.   The Pony Express was started and headquartered here.   There is also an additional pony express museum close by that originally housed the stables.

Volk PonyExpress 500

Had I been around in 1860, when the pony express was started, I am guessing that being one of their riders would not have been a good career move.   First off, I am probably a tad to heavy for the small, quick horses they rode.   However, more to the point, if I so much  as get on a sleepy old nag for a leisurely, one hour trail ride in the Black Hills I painfully discover muscles in my butt I didn’t know existed.   Hour after hour of hard riding across the prairie????    I don’t think so.

On an antique carousel at the Patee House I did find a horse I could ride and made it three times around before I was thrown.

Volk DaveHorsy 400

The house where Jesse James was shot has been moved and now is right behind the Patee Museum.   The picture below shows where the bullet exited Jesse’s head and went into the wall.   Jesse’s wife and children stayed at the Patee after the shooting.

Volk Wall 400

Missouri is called the ‘Show Me State’ and for the last couple of days St. Joseph showed me great history, delicious food and warm, cordial people.

It is a little foggy as I head out of St. Joe headed to

  1. But not cold and no ice or snow is in the forecast.   I almost prefer driving in gloomy weather.    It is 60 today and if it was a sunny, windless day I would think I should be golfing.

 On my way across Missouri I stop for some food at a small town and find the ‘Friendliest Store in Town.’  Not just a ‘Friendly’ store, but ‘the Friendliest.’  A lady customer, who complained about having to pay 75 cents to buy air for her tires, probably would not agree.

Volk Store 400

 I like small towns and always find it interesting that when you are a stranger in a town that doesn’t get many strangers the room you are entering falls a little quiet and you are viewed with the same oddity as you might give a three legged dog.   However, these places are universally cordial and welcoming.

 Back home my buddy ‘The Judge’ and I travel small towns and he rates their bars  using his favorite beer, Grain Belt.   A  five Grain Belt rating being the best.   Friendliness is one of the criteria and I cannot remember a bar ever losing a ‘Grain Belt point’ because they weren’t friendly.

 As I am about to leave Missouri at the Mississippi River I stop at Hannibal.    A cute, quaint little town, should you have a liking for Mark Twain themed gift shops, knickknack shops, curio shops and antique shops you would love Hannibal.

 I eat lunch at a place called Finn’s Food and Spirits.    It serves a wickedly good chili and service is top rate.    One of The Judge’s criteria, when rating a tavern is whether they even serve Grain Belt.   I do not drink until the day’s driving is done so I forget to ask if they have that brew of proof, but I am guessing they don’t.   Still, Finn’s Food and Spirits is a solid 4 Grain Belt spot.

Volk Finns 400

 On to the Springfield and the Land of Lincoln…

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November 20, 2014

First blizzard of the year has hit so most definitely time to throw the golf clubs and summer clothes in the car and head south.

Rapid City, SD - Nov. 10
Volk Snow 395

Hard to believe this will be my fourth trip to Florida and my fourth edition of “Down The Road” travel blog.

I’ve been a bit of a slug this summer and have stayed pretty close to home. Golfed a lot, which nonetheless didn’t seem to improve my game. Anyway, more than ready to begin my annual pilgrimage.

Am leaving even earlier than last year and will depart on November 21st. Like last year, when I left before Christmas, I will once again be away from my Midwest roots for another major holiday, Thanksgiving. Again, as I mentioned last year, I was in Vietnam in 1970 for all the holidays that year.

I remember well that Vietnam Thanksgiving. I and some others were coming back by chopper to our basecamp late at night. As we trudged; cold, tired and wet, back to our hooch’s we were surprised to see that the mess hall was still open. More surprising was that they were still serving turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, which was hot and delicious! So, even in that depressing place, so very far from home, I found something to be thankful for………thankful that my fellow soldiers, who worked in the mess hall, had been kind enough to stay open late so that GIs like us could enjoy a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving

Though I will be on the road over Thanksgiving not to worry as my wonderful friends in Atlanta have graciously invited me to their place for Thanksgiving and won’t be eating turkey roll in some Georgia diner on the 27th. So, gobble, gobble, you’all.

I re-read some of my previous blogs so as to keep repetitions to a minimum, and I was struck by how often I mentioned that one of the great benefits of my road trips was the opportunity to see old friends along the way, and how important it was not to lose touch with people who are important to you. Those comments became particularly poignant this year as I lost two close friends; among those people I saw every year on my trip.

Charlie Smith, former Treasurer of Wisconsin, and Harlan Mathews, former US Senator and Treasurer of Tennessee. Both WWII veterans who spent a lifetime serving their country and state and raising wonderful families. They were dear friends who I will miss a lot. I am so glad I got to see them these past few years on my journeys.


I am going to take a somewhat different route this year, although as always I will be at the vagaries of the weather. I am also going to slow down a little. No more 600-700 mile days.

First stop will be St. Joe, Missouri. It is a neat, historical town, which has an excellent western museum including the house where Jesse James was killed.

In 1882 Jesse was living in St. Joe under the name of Thomas Howard and was entertaining his friends the Ford brothers, Charley and Bob. 

While dusting a picture Bob Ford shot him in the back for the reward money.

Volk JesseJames01 500
Volk JesseJames02 190
Library of Congress

Later, while living in Colorado, and bragging about his deed someone returned the favor and shot Bob Ford in the face with a double-barreled shotgun.

"But that dirty little coward /
That shot Mr. Howard /
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.”

Volk Monument 203

 From there it is on to Springfield, Illinois. I have always wanted to visit Abraham Lincoln’s gravesite and see some of the places from Lincoln’s early days.

A good friend Brian Duffy lives there and I will camp with him. Duff is one of a whole gang of crazy Irishmen from Illinois that I met while working with the Vietnam Veteran’s Leadership Program under Reagan. He’s a good guy except for the fact that he is a Navy man, and seems to take a little too much pleasure in winning money from me every year after the Army-Navy football game. This year will be different and the Black Knights of the Hudson are going to give those Annapolis Squids what for. Of course, I am a Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bear fan so what the hell do I know about winning sports team.

From Springfield it is an easy glide down to Nashville and after seeing friends there will head for Atlanta and settle into the ‘Volk Room’ at my friends the Smith’s for Thanksgiving.

As in the past you can post comments, thoughts or suggestions to the blog or onto Facebook.

I will have another post after leaving Nashville and another upon landing on the beach at Casa Del Mar in Longboat Key.

Hope you all have had a good summer and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving, and glad you are joining me going ‘Down the Road.’

VoteVolk 73PS: I was going to write a postscript about the recent election but each time I tried it just came out grumpy. So I’ll just say that, like most people I am glad its over, and wish those elected well. Although I spent many years in politics I do not miss it and much prefer spending time with 3rd and 4th graders through my children’s books.


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