I Love (Rural) Fly-Over America

Bob Byerley’s

Today is Sunday, September 13, 2020, and I just finished driving a pleasant midday 40-mile leg through rural Ohio. Raised in Tucson, Arizona and Anchorage, Alaska, I find the rural areas of “Fly-Over-Country” the best of America. Also known as “Middle America,” the heartland of our great nation is as American as baseball, apple pie, patriotism, and hot dogs.

After leaving an Ohio lawnmower/snowblower factory near Willard, I took a rural route toward Mt. Gilead, then on to Columbus, OH. As I lumbered along narrow state routes (598, 309, & 61), not much wider than my huge Freightliner, I saw paintings everywhere I looked. Norman Rockwell paintings.

I noticed a woman rocking on her front porch, knitting someone’s future sweater or scarf. There was a young man sitting in the engine compartment of his old pickup truck, turning wrenches. An old hay wagon was parked in a driveway, loaded down with pumpkins and squash. A huge scarecrow was propped up near a field filled with an unidentifiable crop.

As a white country church with the familiar steeple approached on the left, I looked to my right and noticed a man in a tee-shirt cutting the grass beside the road with an old push mower. I saw houses, barns, tractors, treehouses, and one very nice Model T Ford. There were political signs in front of most homes for the two 2020 presidential candidates. Funny, I saw about 200 yard signs for one candidate and only 3 for the other. The ratio was a little surprising and thought provoking.

While carefully guiding my 80,000-pound rig down the narrow winding road, I ran the numbers in my head. A 2020 Toyota Camry weighs 3572 pounds. It would take more than 22 Camrys to equal the weight of a heavily loaded semi-truck and trailer. No wonder I was driving 15 miles per hour less than the 55 mph speed limit. A strict believer in always driving my huge truck at or below the speed limit, I couldn’t help but wonder what genius set the speed limit so high.

Houses and mailboxes dotted the road on both sides of the narrow rural road. Well manicured lawns were part of every home; resembling a lush green sea between driveways and homes.

Nicely spaced, each residence was unique. No tract homes along this road. Some of the driveways were short with houses set close to the road. While many other homes were at the end of long tree lined driveways. Structures, trees, and lawns all along the roadway were carefully maintained. Colorful flower boxes adorned porch railings. American flags were everywhere! I caught myself singing America The Beautiful.

I saw cornfields, rolled up hay, signs advertising straw for sale, children playing outside, pickup trucks in most driveways, thick ropes hanging down from huge branches with swings at the bottom, and beautiful trees adorned every yard. My wife loves white picket fences and covered porches with rockers and swing chairs. Today’s trip would have been eye candy for Miss Tracey.

I mentioned Norman Rockwell earlier. Tracey and I knew a man in Alaska who possessed a priceless gem painted by Rockwell. The painting was a gift from Norman Rockwell for our acquaintance, Alaskan artist Fred Machetanz. The piece was painted specifically for Fred by Mr. Rockwell. I’ve always been a fan of Rockwell’s work and was absolutely thrilled to know that particular painting was created solely as a gift for someone we knew.

Today’s drive was a Norman Rockwell painting in motion. On one short stretch, I remember seeing cows feasting on green grass to my left, followed by the most beautiful plump goats I’ve ever seen. Brown and white, they looked like they’d just been to the groomer. As my eyes swept from those images on my left and traveled back to the road, I noticed an oncoming car come up and over a small rise in the road, flashing his headlights on and off; over and over. The male driver was desperately trying to garner my attention.

Peering beyond his vehicle, from my high vantage point more than 8’ from the roadway, I saw two young boys riding their bicycles on the right side of my lane. I acknowledged the other driver with a wave and began to slow down.

Complete with cowlicks and grins, peddling like mad, the two lads looked like something Rockwell would have painted for the cover of Boys Life magazine. As I slowed to a crawl and moved over into the other lane (no oncoming traffic) they kept looking over their shoulders at the nearly 14-foot tall behemoth, with 18 huge wheels, lumbering toward bicycles and boys. I slowly released air into the truck’s horns, to avoid startling them. The deep bass whisper slowly rose in volume as I steadily released more compressed air into the throaty horns. Their toothy grins broadened into enormous smiles as I let go with several loud blasts and rattled the countryside. It clearly made their day, and by extension, made mine as well.

Traveling that road earlier today reminded me of a line James Earl Jones spoke in a monologue about baseball in the wonderful movie, Field of Dreams. He said, “It’s a part of our past Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

Tracey and I have been to the Dyersville, Iowa location used for the Field of Dreams movie. Like the Field of Dreams setting (a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, next to a beautiful white home located in a 100% rural setting), today’s trip warmed my heart. I’ve driven my huge truck across America’s heartland many many times and am happy to report that fly-over states enjoy rural areas that continue to reflect baseball, apple pie, patriotism, and hot dogs (cold beer too). God Bless America!

*Showing off their fishing trophies, big brother appears embarrassed by his sister’s trophy display. We’ve enjoyed this print in our home for many decades.

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