Don Q Inn
Donald J. Quinn was a pilot who liked to push the envelope. In 1964 he bought a farm in Dodgeville and built a 3,000-foot-long landing strip so he could fly his jet into his back yard. Four years later he had transformed the runway into Dodgeville's municipal airport, and the old dairy barn into Dodgeville's quirkiest restaurant.
It wasn't enough for Quinn. He wanted a legacy -- and it turned out to be a motel.
Inspired by the crazy decor at the House on the Rock just up the road, Quinn built his new project with industrial salvage. He recycled parts of old factories, schools, banks, hospitals, even railroad boxcars. He built guest rooms with sunken bathtubs made from 300 gallon cheese vats. He took the Dodgeville's old Methodist Church steeple and made it into a honeymoon suite. He filled the motel with barber chairs, including some from the Iowa State Penitentiary. When we asked why, Susan Stadler, current owner of the Inn, told us, "He had a lot of friends who were barbers."
Finally, Quinn dug a 326-foot-long tunnel from the barn restaurant to the motel -- so its guests wouldn't have to go outside when it was cold.
The Don Q Inn opened in 1974. Quinn called it, "a motel where you'd love to stay forever."
But Quinn wasn't ready to rest. He wanted the Inn to have something eye-catching out by the highway. So in 1977 he bought a huge Korean War vintage C-97 Stratofreighter, had it flown into Dodgeville's tiny airport, and parked it in front of his motel (The plane had appeared in a Mercury Cougar car commercial with Farrah Fawcett-Majors, whose painted signature is still visible on the right side of its fuselage).
Quinn told the local newspaper that he planned to mount the giant airplane on stilts above the Don Q Inn parking lot and turn it into a coffee shop. He said he would fly in more planes and use them as motel rooms. He said he would set one plane aside so that he could start a school for aircraft mechanics.
None of that happened. Two years after the arrival of the plane, Quinn sold the Inn and all of its diversions to a motel developer. He was only 54. Nine years later he was dead.
But the Don Q Inn did not die. It bewitched its new owner, Roger Dehring, who saw that its craziest rooms were also its most popular. Inspired, Dehring became a pioneer of the "Fanta-Suite" motels of the 1980s. He added a wing of them to the Inn, including Up, Up and Away with a round bed inside a hot air balloon basket; Jungle Safari where guests could sleep in a tree house; and Tranquility Base with a bed inside a lunar lander and a hot tub on the moon.
Dehring went on to build Fanta-Suites for several other Midwest motels, but the fad passed and none of them remain open -- except for the landmark progenitor Don Q Inn. To Dehring's credit, he recognized the uniqueness of what Quinn had built and never remodeled the original motel. Visitors today can soak in the same cheese vat tubs that dazzled daring travelers in 1974.