Mother-Daughter Travels

“When does Dan go to Scout camp?” sis Gloria wanted to know. My husband worked shift-work so couldn’t help with regular weekend campouts, but would use vacation time to go accompany the troop on a week-long trip. So Mom, Gloria, and I would plan a little outing of our own.

One year it was the Grant Wood extravaganza at Davenport and the Hoover Museum at West Branch Iowa. Others were  Galena (Illinois), the Amanas, Ames, Carroll, the M & M Divide, and Corning in Iowa. Even Perry and Panther Corner. We’ve been driven out of Omaha, Nebraska, by suffocating weather–which had spawned a tornado by the time we made it as far as Adair, Iowa, for ice cream. 

But our favorite trip for the the three of us–nearly negotiating it step by step–was to Red Wing, Minnesota.

Every time Lee Kline, WHO-Radio’s now-retired but classy farm broadcaster, described one of his trips, Mom was ready to visit wherever he’d told about. Adding his own insights to the history of the place, Lee Kline could make anywhere seem fascinating.

Gloria, who taught art in Creston for over three decades, heard Lee Kline describe the St. James Hotel at Red Wing Minnesota, overlooking the Mississippi River, giving its history and the town’s history. Mom had heard the same broadcast.

So when Troop 280 left for Camp Klaus in northeast Iowa the summer of 1987, we three headed for Red Wing.


Gloria liked to shop. I liked history and antiques. Mom liked to veto our ideas, enough so that we had to negotiate about everything. For some reason, my vote was usually the tie-breaker. All three of us agreed on making reservations for the St. James Hotel, and for lunch aboard the Star Clipper Dinner Train at Waterloo, Iowa.

The art teacher needed film on the way, so decided to get it in Grinnell. Grinnell? Yes, to also see the “Sullivan bank,” which is a treasure. Officially the Merchants National Bank building is one of the eight Midwestern “jewel-box” banks designed by Louis Sullivan, an American architect and mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright. The bank was constructed in 1914 and was used as a bank until 1999. It now houses the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.


The three-hour dinner train trip through the Cedar River valley to Waverly and back was wonderful. A four-course lunch with the most tender prime rib in the Velvet Rose car. Our table-mate was a tour guide who had kids that went to Gloria’s alma mater (ISU), and a Boeing 747 from Offutt Air Force Base kept circling, practicing low approaches at the Waterloo airport.

StClipper (3)

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Gloria and Joy aboard the Star Clipper dinner train–July 14, 1987.

Gloria: “Quasqueton is just east of here. Do we have time to see a Frank Lloyd Wright house?”

We arrived at a cornfield with an outhouse and a path. Just one other car in the lot. Mom wanted to leave. “And miss the house?” I voted with Gloria, and we had a delightful tour of the 1950 house called Cedar Rock, complete with furniture and accessories, which were also designed by Wright, with philodendron vining throughout the house on head-high window sills. Dark wood, a wonderful view of the winding Cedar River.

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Nearly everything at Cedar Rock bears Wright’s imprint–the furniture, carpets, draperies, even picked accessories. Cedar Rock was begun in 1948 and completed in 1950. It’s roof and floors are concrete; the walls are brick, glass, and walnut. It is one of nine Wright designed homes in Iowa. Of all the Wrights Iowa designs, Cedar Rock is the only home he chose to bear his coveted signature tile.



We stayed overnight in Spillville, and next morning visited the Bily Clock Museum, which is home to amazing wooden clocks hand carved by two brothers in their spare time.

At Spillville we also visited St. Wenceslas Church, which dates from 1860, the oldest Czech Catholic church in the United States. 

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Now comes the negotiation part. Mom noticed that the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Hotel” at Burr Oak was on the way to Red Wing. Mom and I had discovered the Little House books as adults, and both had our own sets of them. Gloria wasn’t interested. I voted with Mom, so we stopped to visit.  When Laura was nine years old, the Ingalls family left Walnut Grove, Minnesota, after suffering through two years of grasshopper plagues. They traveled to Burr Oak, Iowa, to help manage the Masters Hotel. Often referred to as “The Missing Link” in the Little House book series, the Masters Hotel is the only childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder that remains on its original site.

Master’s Hotel, Burr Oak, Iowa


The St. James Hotel in Red Wing was indeed delightful–blue handmade Mariner’s Compass quilts on the brass beds (in the Admiral room in the new part), sunset over an old train depot below, with a bend in the Mississippi River and the bridge into Wisconsin beyond. The original part was built in 1875, within walking distance from the train depot and the steamboat docks. President Rutherford B. Hayes was a guest there once, as were WHO-Radio’s Lee Kline and his wife.

The next day we shopped at the Pottery Place Mall that used to be the old Red Wing pottery factory.

“Joy, do you realize that Pepin, Wisconsin, is just over the state line?” Mom asked me. That’s Laura Ingalls Wilder country.

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“Forget it,” Gloria says. But she was out-voted. We visited the log cabin replica of Laura’s 1867 birthplace, or the the now-famous “Little House in the Big Woods.” 

“Little House” cabin near Pepin, Wisconsin.
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Someone’s Laura Ingalls Wilder collection. Thankful to have a granddaughter who might enjoy them, as her father did not.

Even Gloria perked up after that, when we found an antique shop in Pepin. Actually, the vote was unanimous. Mom bought my Christmas present there–a rosy pink glass oil lamp.

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Back to Iowa

We drove all the way home from there, arriving at 9:30 at night. We’d driven 800 miles, and it cost us $117 apiece–without souvenirs.

Our favorite mother-daughter trip, we reminisced about it for years–even the negotiating part of it.



  1. Sounds like a very fun trip! A great reminder that there are wonderful and interesting things to be found around every corner!

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