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Boondoggle 2012: Day 3

Might as well call Day 3 "Hawkeye Tuesday", since it's the only day of the trip that will be spent entirely in Iowa.

And what a day it was, with ice cream and ticks and cornfield ghosts and ... oh my!

Day 3 began with a short drive from Iowa City to West Branch, the home of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum.

You can actually buy this Hoover quote, suitable for framing, in the gift shop:

Next to religion, baseball has had a greater impact on our American way of life than any other American institution.

I don't know if that's true, but it sounds good and Hoover had seen a lot of things in his 80 years, so maybe he was right. And Hoover does seem to have really enjoyed the game. He once wrote, "I was for a short time on the baseball team as a shortstop, where I was not so good ... In time my colleagues decided I would make a better manager than shortstop."

That was during his student days at Stanford. Late in his life, he kept on his desk a clock given to him, in 1960, by the 1939 American League and National League All-Stars. Hoover wasn't a big fan of television, and supposedly watched little on TV except baseball.

Of course I'm skipping over all the important things about Hoover. Of which there were many. The most exciting thing that happened to me in West Branch, though, was the ticks.

Before going into the museum, we took a 15-minute walk along the Prairie Trails. Which would have been better if not for the Interstate highway, a few hundred yards away. Not to mention the lovely Golden Arches, visible for much of our stroll. Anyway, apparently there are a lot of ticks on the prairie. While in the museum, I plucked eleven ticks from my skin.

Our next stop didn't have anything to do with baseball at all. It was just tremendously cool, is all.

In the small town of Wilton, you'll find the oldest continuously operating soda fountain and ice-cream place in the world. Or so they say, and I believe them. A delightful fellow named George makes the ice cream, and with his wife Thelma does most of the work. Which is nothing new. George has been running the place since 1951 (he took over from his father, who'd owned the joint since 1910) and Thelma started working there 70 years ago.

As near as I can tell, once George and Thelma aren't around any more, the Wilton Candy Kitchen will just have to close its doors because there won't be anyone around. But even if it doesn't close, it just won't be the same. If you're ever driving on I-80 between Iowa City and the Quad Cities, this is definitely worth the 30-minute detour if you like Ice Cream. Or America. Or other humans.

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(from a few years ago, here's the whole story, or what would fit in a magazine article anyway)

Our next stop was Davenport, Iowa, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits. The 'its were home Tuesday night, but we couldn't stay in town long enough for that. So instead we just walked around the ballpark, looked at the Mississippi for a few minutes, and hit the road again with just one question on our minds ... What's a Modern Woodmen?

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As most of you know, baseball fans aren't allowed to visit the northeastern quadrant of Iowa without visiting Dyersville. It's a state law or something. Because of course Dyersville is where most of Field of Dreams was filmed. Believe it or not, the whole baseball field is still there, 24 years later. And it's perfectly free to anyone who's interested in a game of catch, or even some hitting practice. Really. If you want, you can show up at nine in the morning and play straight through until six, when they kick everyone off the field.

Really, that's a pretty tremendous thing. And I'm not even a fan of the movie (though I do love the book on which it's based).

I do fear for the field's future. No, there aren't any plans to plow everything up and grow more corn (God knows Iowa's got plenty of that already). But changes are (probably) a'coming. From the site's official site:

Thanks for your support to the Field of Dreams Movie Site these past 23 years. Contrary to what has been reported in the press, the Field has not yet been sold. It is only "under contract" and not anticipated to change ownership until late fall of 2012. Once the Field has actually been sold, everything will remain the same with little to no interruption to our tourists and daily schedule. The actual movie site is not in any way being altered. Quite to the contrary, it will be preserved for generations to come.

In the surrounding fields we will be developing "AllStar Ballpark Heaven". A 24-field premier tournament facility with year-round indoor training dome. This will be one of only a few facilities of its kind anywhere in this country and will boast the additional excitement of softball tournament fields as well. We are very excited about what this project will mean to the thousands of children who participate in youth baseball programs across the country and know that the legacy of the Field of Dreams movie site will remain intact for generations to come. Please know that the "Field of Dreams Preservation Project" is an essential piece of our over-all goal and there will be no stone unturned to ensure your experience here will always be just as you remembered it in years previous.

Question: How will it be just as I remembered it if, instead of the field being surrounded by a sea of corn, it's surrounded by 24 baseball fields, a year-round training dome, and God knows how many parking spaces?

If you want to see the Field of Dreams that you've had inside your head for nearly 25 years, I'll give you the same advice I'll give you about the Wilton Candy Kitchen ... Go. Now. Before it's too late.

But then, that goes for just about everything, doesn't it? Sure, the Fourth Street Elevator might be around forever. But I might not be. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, etc.

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