Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
May 20, 2016
Typically we’d flag a tip like this as a shaggy dog tale, if it wasn’t for the photographic evidence and the veracity of its source. It’s from Bruce Kennedy, who’s been amassing an unprecedented cluster of giant fiberglass figures next to his business in Hayward, California. Bruce wrote to us: “Hayward’s long lost [Doggie Diner] head was found today when a local car club stopped by Bell Plastics for a visit. It needs a little work.”
Bruce chatted with us about how this artifact of the defunct chain once graced the outside of his town’s Doggie Diner. When the diner was shuttered, the Hell’s Angels in an adjacent hangout/bar went nuts. They liked the diner, and in a misdirected pursuit of revenge they decided to take it out on the head. They commandeered the giant fiberglass dachshund in a chef’s hat, yanked it off its pole, and moved it to an uninhabited island along San Francisco bay for target practice. Whether this blast-fest happened as a single tragic event isn’t clear, but the head was left riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.
“And they’d machine-gunned it,” said Bruce.
The surviving part of the head was recovered and ended up in the possession of one of the motorcycle gang members, who kept it in private seclusion for many years. The biker grew to love the head, in a way, and eventually returned to the island massacre site and gathered fragments — finding part of the chef’s hat, metal parts, and fiberglass fragments, and the doggie’s bow tie.
The owner saw Bruce’s website, which featured his restored Doggie Diner heads, and decided to load his Hayward Doggie into the bed of his vintage pick-up truck for the day’s car club travels.
May 2, 2016
According to Foamhenge creator Mark Cline, his megalithic masterpiece has been given “the official pink slip” by the state of Virginia and will be gone by August 1st, 2016. Foamhenge stands on land that’s part of the soon-to-be-official Natural Bridge State Park, which apparently doesn’t want Mark’s styrofoam creation. He’s anticipated Foamhenge’s departure for years — frankly, Mark is delighted that it’s lasted as long as it has — and wrote to us that “The plan is to find someone (hopefully in the state) to adopt it. But it can go anywhere to a good home.”
While Foamhenge will move elsewhere, the property next to it will be home to Mark’s newest attraction, Dinosaur Kingdom II. “A friend once told me when one door closes, another opens,” Mark said. “That proves one thing — you have ghosts in your house.”
January 1, 2016
2015 was a year that pundits proclaimed was a downer, but in the Roadside universe it rolled along with few potholes or washouts. The Space Shuttle Independence in Texas — a full-size, walk-thru Shuttle on a 747 — was pushed back from 2015 to 2016, but that wasn’t a shock; space projects haven’t met deadlines since the 1960s. And did anyone really expect the RoboCop statue to be unveiled in Detroit, as has been promised every year since 2011? We didn’t; it wasn’t. Maybe RoboCop will surprise us in 2016.
There were a few high profile train wrecks (creating and/or running an attraction isn’t easy). Far more frequent were the success stories of 2015, including the reopening of favorites such as America’s Largest Pyramid and the Dillinger Museum. The ancient Mitchell Corn Palace was given a complete makeover, and the results actually looked pretty good.
Foamhenge, whose future was in doubt as 2015 began, not only survived but enters 2016 with the unexpected blessings of its hometown. Its creator, Mark Cline, told us that he’s also been given the go-ahead to reopen his Dinosaur Kingdom attraction, and to create a new attraction for the building that formerly housed the Natural Bridge Wax Museum, which was recklessly shuttered by the previous town administration.
The most talked-about over-the-top attraction for 2016 is the full-size Noah’s Ark being built in Kentucky by the Creation Museum people. Other anticipated openings include those of the National Videogame Museum in Texas, the Museum of Neon Art in California, and the Burger Beast Museum in Florida. Rumors suggest that Las Vegas will unveil a huge Black Light Slide in 2016, and that a town in Minnesota will erect a big metal Godzilla. If that sounds improbable, remember that in 2015 a town in Oklahoma erected two giant Transformers.
Presidents and their landmarks will be big news in 2016 (they’ve always been big with us), and America’s oldest presidential museum — for Rutherford B. Hayes — will celebrate its 100th birthday. Ronald Reagan’s will turn 25. It will be 75 years since the blasting and hammering stopped on the giant President heads at Mount Rushmore (work continues, slowly, on their neighbor Chief Crazy Horse). 2016 will also feature the 250th birthday of Uncle Sam, or at least the real guy who supposedly inspired the caricature creation.
The fate of several controversial monuments in New Orleans (such as this one) will be decided in 2016, as will that of the Orange Dinosaur of Massachusetts, although people seem far more inclined to save the dinosaur. The Scary Lucy statue will supposedly be replaced by a boring, normal Lucy in 2016, a plan that we hope its hometown will realize is a big mistake.
Also on track for 2016 is the opening of the new Spam Museum, and the expansion of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force with even more rockets, planes, and bombs. Outdoor Los Angeles will welcome the return of its Tail o’ the Pup diner and Rocky and Bullwinkle statue. And everyone will celebrate the completed restoration of Roadside titans Big Ole and Tex Randall.
It’s a lot to track, but we’re happy to do it. What don’t we know about 2016? Plenty. There will be surprises — and as soon as we find out about them, we’ll point you in the right direction.
November 2, 2015
For a generation of roadside fans, the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) defined the horror and wonder of the American road trip. Despite the film’s premise, its filmmakers didn’t actually travel to too many places (National Lampoon was notoriously cheap). But the film did provide a roadside snapshot of sorts during its opening credits, when its peppy theme song played over a montage of 50 “vintage” postcards (some were faked).
Many people view those images with a pang of nostalgia, sad that they’ll never be able to see those attractions of yore. Those people are mistaken! Most of the classic attractions seen on the postcards in National Lampoon’s Vacation are still standing, and can be visited today, even though the film is itself now old enough to be vintage.
Many of the postcards were of generic scenes (“Shady Country Lane”), or buttocks/outhouse gags (“Having No End of Fun”), or fantasy photos of giant vegetables on railroad cars. Several were of places so famous that they probably won’t disappear in our lifetimes (Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge), or of neon motels that were already gone when the film opened in 1983.
But among the postcards were those for a number of classic roadside attractions, most of them still delivering wonder to travelers. Here are the attractions in the order in which they appear:
• Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree – Leggett, CA
• Mount Rushmore – Keystone, SD
• Maid of the Mist – Niagara Falls, NY
• Wigwam Village Motel No. 7 – Rialto, CA
• Santa’s Workshop – Cascade, CO
• Hat ‘n’ Boots – Seattle, WA
• Mystery Spot – St Ignace, MI
• Trout Haven – Black Hills, SD (still there)
• Gatorland – Kissimmee, FL
• Big Fish Supper Club – Bena, MN
• Lucy the Elephant – Margate City, NJ
• Boxy Paul Bunyan and Babe – Bemidji, MN
• Tower of Pizza – Green Brook, NJ (gone)
• Cabazon Dinosaurs – Cabazon, CA
September 5, 2015
A surprising variety of objects have bested the paving machines. Here are a few of our favorites:
In a field-first, often shadeless state like Iowa, this huge cottonwood stands in the middle of an intersection, unmolested.
Too big to move (apparently it’s the tip of a giant boulder), so the town just paved a street around it.
Tree in Rock
America’s most famous detour. Tree in the Rock not only splits a major interstate, it jogged the railroad tracks that were there earlier.
Nancy Barnett’s final resting place was protected from the road crew by a grandson with a shotgun.
An oil well has been pumping in the middle of Main Street for nearly a hundred years, and its town is proud of it.
When a celebrity spacecraft crashes into one of your avenues, you’d be foolish not to mark the spot. This historical footnote has survived countless repavings.
As far as we know, this is the only execution spot in America deemed important enough to reroute a street. And the dead guy wasn’t even American.
And one that didn’t last:
An in-asphalt plaque marked the spot where minister George Haddock was gunned down during a prohibition battle. It was eventually dug up in 2013, but the churchman had defied the asphalt gods for 77 years.
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April 4, 2015
The world doesn’t know that yet, but Will Russell does.
Will is the 21st century P.T. Barnum behind Lebowski Fest (the annual multi-city celebration of the film The Big Lebowski) and WHY Louisville (a retail attraction that ennobles the quirkiness of his hometown).
But Will is prepared to expand his horizons, to graduate from promoter to builder, from Barnum to Disney. Cave City is the canvas on which he intends to create his masterpiece.
“I want Cave City to be a Land of Roadside Attractions,” Will told us. “I genuinely feel like I have been preparing my entire life for what I am about to do.”
(Full disclosure: Will tells us he was propelled down this path partly by his purchase of the Roadside America App for iPhone. “That app changed my life,” he said. “I will testify publicly on that. It turns any vacation into a great vacation.”)
“The ImaginationLand Museum was inspired by the Alamo tour in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” said Will. “There’ll be a series of terrible dioramas, just horribly done. Chicken wire. Body organs. I’m gonna have a whole wall of singing taxidermy.”
The side of Funtown Mountain facing the interstate will be enhanced with Kentucky Rushmore, an idea bubbling in Will’s fever-brain since 2011.
“I imagine,” said Will, “eventually I’ll just grow a big, weird beard and move up on top of the mountain.”
Yet Funtown Mountain, fantastic as it sounds, is just part of Will’s plan for Cave City.
First, Cave City will be branded the Roadside Capital of the World, or the Roadside Attraction Capital of America, or something like that. “It is because we say so,” said Will, who plans to use his social media clout to make it happen. “It’s easy to do. And everybody’s already, ‘Okay, cool.'”
Next, Will plans to erect “See Cave City” billboards up and down Interstate 65, inspired by the iconic See Rock City barns and the stark “Jesus Saves, Hell is Real” billboards familiar to any modern freeway traveler. “We will hype this town for hours,” said Will. “And when you get to Cave City there’s already a giant dinosaur by the side of the road!”
Finally, Will intends to become the town’s principal property owner. “Cave City is for sale, man, and I aim to buy it,” he said (This includes Wigwam Village, where Will said he eventually wants his ashes scattered). Cave City will rise from its long sleep as a remodeled, self-contained tourist destination. “Part of the reason is defensive. I don’t want Walmart coming in there. I don’t want adult books stores. I want Cave City to be an affordable family experience. I want people to spend a weekend there.”
Kicking all of this off is the Carnival of Fun/Funtown Mountain Wondershow, which will be departing Louisville on April 17, with stops and shows in Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis, Lexington and then Louisville. Packed into an airstream trailer, among many marvels, will be a live band, a Colonel Sanders dummy in a remote control wheelchair, and a performing chicken.
Funtown Mountain is scheduled to open on June 19.
You may be asking yourself: Where is Will getting the funding to accomplish all of this? “We’re getting lots of money coming in from lots of places,” Will told us, citing several impressive and deep-pocketed business partners and funding entities. “It’s gonna happen. There’s no way to stop it.”
“This is the grand finale for me,” Will said. “Act One was Lebowski Fest. Act Two was WHY Louisville. This is the grandest effort I’ll ever make.”
[Update, Nov. 17, 2015: Will Russell filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. Funtown Mountain is closed.]
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