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Observations From the Road (The “Central Time” Edition)

Not All Who Wander Tour 2014Claire and I were driving through the heart of Central Minnesota today when the Pokey LaFarge paean to Middle America – Central Time – popped up on the iPhone playlist.

Yet another omen!

The Missouri is my right arm, the Ohio is my left

But I’m livin’ on the Mississippi River where I like life the best

I don’t mind the west coast, and I don’t mind the east coast

Oh, baby, but I ain’t gonna live on no coast.

I’m just a plain ole Midwestern boy,

Getting by on Central time

So thanks to Pokey’s reminder, here are a few (more) observations from the road – in the Central Time edition.

Twine Ball City Limits SignSome oddities really are worth seeing – We went an hour out of our way today to see the largest ball of twine rolled by one person, and it was SO worth it.   As the great post on the Roadside America blog puts it, “One runs across more than a few balls on the obsession landscape…But special tribute must be paid to the Mother of the moss gathering pursuits – the giant twine ball.”

We left Minneapolis in a fever (to paraphrase  the great Johnny Cash) in anticipation of our trip to Darwin, Minnesota.  At this point, I’m going to turn it back to Roadside America:

Francis A. Johnson was a quiet man who spent his entire life in Meeker County (His dad, Magnus Johnson, was briefly a U.S. Senator from Minnesota). For reasons that are lost to time Francis began rolling a ball of twine in his basement in 1950. Francis rolled twine four hours a day, every day. He eventually moved the ball onto his front lawn and used railroad jacks to ensure proper wrapping; Johnson cared as much about his ball’s roundness as its diameter. For 29 years this magnificent sphere evolved at Johnson’s farm, and he eventually built a circular open air shed to protect it from the elements.

Johnson didn’t stop until 1979. By then his ball weighed almost 9 tons and was 12 feet wide. He died of emphysema, and the town figured that nearly thirty years of twine dust killed him. But Darwin was also proud of Johnson, and somehow rolled his big ball next to the water tower. It’s known as “World’s Largest Twine Ball Rolled By One Man” because a rival twine ball in Cawker City, Kansas, is regularly added-to by visitors and townspeople. Darwin feels that this is cheating.

While the “Twine Ball Museum” was closed, the ball itself is fully accessible. We spent a good 15 minutes checking it out and taking photos. I suggested the hashtag #perseverance to Claire, but she used “Look what I did” #justkidding instead.

If you are near Minneapolis, DO THIS! Your life will otherwise not be complete.

Twine Ball and Claire

Twine Ball Day Sign 2014

Largest Ball of Twine

Candice makes the best trail mix. Period. – When we left on Friday, Candice sent us off with lunch and two big bags of homemade trail mix.  One-third of the way through the trip, we are still working on the first bag.  Today – with seven hours in the car – was especially hard on the supply, but this wonderful mix has remained fresh.  Thank you, my darling, for providing for us in such a tasty way!

Too many places to see, not enough time to stop (round two) – As I mentioned in the first edition of these observations, there are way too many places to stop and see given the time  allotted for this trip.  Today’s candidates in the “We know you are there, but we just couldn’t stop” category include the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, ND; the Kensington Runestone in Alexandria, MN; the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center Museum in Sauk Centre, MN; the Grumpy Old Men Movie Town in Wabasha, MN; and the world’s largest buffalo in Jamestown, ND.

When you are in a car with your daughter for eight hours a day, you’d best be ready to talk about anything – During our time in the Central time zone (since last Saturday), we’ve discussed life after college, dysfunctional families, relationships and love, living in the present, why neither one of us can do a decent pull-up, reasons to cut back on sugar, Ebola, immigration, what it means to be the level-headed one among the siblings, and good names for bands.  On that last one, we decided that one of the best names we’ve seen pop up on our various playlists is The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (on Claire’s playlist), while one of the best album names is the Tim O’Brien/Darrell Scott album We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This (on David’s playlist). And speaking of sugar, I’ve stopped adding it to my coffee on this trip – at Claire’s suggestion.

Google Maps need some work – I have planned this trip based in part on the times Google Maps told me it would take to get from Point A to Point B.  The only problem is, those times are only accurate if you never stop for a bio break, gas, or lunch.  Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to manage that feat.  We couldn’t get to Bismarck in time this evening to make our planned visit to the Marcel Breuer-designed University of Mary.  We’ll work it in tomorrow, but it is frustrating to think you have all the angles covered, only to have it pointed out to you (again) that you really have no control over anything.

Always ask the server for a recommendation on the local beer – Claire and I are trying out craft beers along the way.  So when we get to a restaurant – as we did today at the Broadway Bistro in the heart of historic downtown Alexandria, Minnesota – we ask for a recommendation for a regional I.P.A. or something with “some hops” that we could split.  So far, we’ve never been disappointed. Today, the chef/owner – Matthew Jensen – recommended Bells’ Smitten Golden Rye Ale, and it was wonderful. Plus we had salads (and are feeling somewhat healthy again).

Claire is a wonderful, sensitive, and thoughtful individual – which, of course, I knew in the Eastern time zone before I left on this trip.  But I just wanted to say it again today.  She is one in a million.

Tomorrow we continue to cross North Dakota (Motto:  We have way more bales of hay than people!) and enter into Montana and the Mountain time zone.  So let’s turn to Pokey again to take us out on Central Time.


More to come…



  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent. You found the twine ball! Also, you must remind me to sing you the C/W song I wrote, “Just to the West of St. Paul” when you are back here on the East Coast, missing your road trip 🙂

    • DJB says

      Somehow I figured you had seen the twine ball, Janet! Can’t wait to hear the song.

      • Indeed, I have seen it many times in my life. And I was so excited to share it with my kids and their cousins, who were all about nine and ten when I had the opportunity to drive them through Darwin one day on the way to see relatives in western Minnesota. I made a pretty big deal about the “something special” I had to show them. And what do you think their reaction was when at last we stood before the great twin ball?

        I think “nonplussed” is the word invented for exactly this situation 🙂

      • I loved the twine ball, Janet. Claire – who was in her early 20s at the time – was delighted as well. I guess there’s a maturation that goes on when seeing something between the age of 10 and then at 20 that allows you to appreciate the effort (if not the specific obsession). I doubt that this was the case in your situation, Janet, but Flannery O’Connor once described sullen children slinking back to their car when confronted by a peacock, after their father told them that it was “the King of the Birds.” O’Connor says their expressions were annoyed, “as if they disliked catching the old man in the truth.”

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