Wild Woods

The music you bump into in these remote hamlets can be surprising. So are the venues. Of all the hundreds of places I’ve played, none resonated so sweetly as a spot just a stone’s throw off Highway 19. Atop the … Read More

Outlaws need pants.

Just south of Lawson, in the pastoral countryside, a huge factory, built more than 150 years ago, made pants and sweaters. The factory may have sold pants and sweaters to Harry Truman, who sold pants and sweaters when he was … Read More

Ignored the Signs. Went In.

Johnnie’s Bar has been serving whiskey in downtown St. James since the Irish laborers built the railroad through here. Even from the outside, Johnnie’s looks foreboding, with its big neon Stag Beer sign over a doorway into cold, smoky darkness. … Read More

Connie, the KC Cutie

Connie stays across the river from downtown Kansas City at the old municipal airport. She’s known more formally as a Lockheed Constellation, the airline workhorse of the 1950s. If you saw her, you’d instantly recognize the plane, with her curvy … Read More

Puzzle Heaven. Puzzle Hell.

Sleeper, Missouri, hides some big stories. Years ago two trains collided in Sleeper. The trains piled up like accordions, and only a jigsaw puzzle master could put them together again. Appropriate, as I approached Nancy Ballhagen’s Puzzles, a major distributor … Read More

There’s Silver in Those Rails

A solitary figure sat trackside on a bench outside the La Plata train depot. Approaching him I noticed he held a portable two-way radio. “Train on time?” I asked. “Three hours behind,” he said in halting speech. He didn’t seem … Read More

Sign language.

We’re not traveling. So we peeked in the rearview mirror at some of our favorite signs along the road trip into America’s hidden heart.

Snakes? Shamrocks? Patrick’s Real Story Is Better

Researching for a novel about my Irish priest great grandfather, I’ve come face-to-face with the real St. Patrick. Two tales make him less caricature, more saintly. Every Irish child knows the first story: Patrick ascended Clough Patrick (the Irish Mount … Read More