Category Archives: Doug & Polly Smith’s Route 62: Tales from the Other Road

Doug & Polly Smith, Photographed in Grand Island, NY, 2000.

Route 62: Tales from the Other Road

It only took us 17 years, but here’s Doug & Polly Smith’s epic road-trip account of their travels down Route 62. This is the unedited version, as it is the only version we seem to have on hand in digital format. Some of the text may still contain typos left over from the OCR software we used at the time. Doug was only just beginning to enter the digital age in 1999. 

By Doug and Polly Smith

Introduction

If the setting sun shone across Route 66, its shadow would he Route 62. A mystery even to those who live at its curb. Route 62 emerges from the mists of Niagara Falls to meander 2,315 miles (more or less) through 11 states to the Rio Grande at F-l Paso.

It has Northeast smokestacks, Amish farms, tobacco barns, race horses, rugged crosses, cotton fields, oil rigs, cattle drives, mountain passes and the Border Patrol. It takes two bridges to throw it across the Mississippi River.

A thoroughfare for underdogs, it has lured us all our lives.

Polly Smith, conscience of this account, has given it a name: “The Other Road-” With all deference to “The Mother Road,” anything Route 66 can do. The Other Road can do better. This is its story, and ours ..

We aimed to drive it when we were 62 but as time passed, we were paving The Other Road only with good intentions. Spurred to action by a minor health matter, we planned to transit 62 in the fall of ’99.

We checked football schedules, so as to avoid traffic at Ohio State, Kentucky and Arkansas Universities along the route. We asked a cloister of nuns (we are not Catholic) to pray that those we would meet would be glad we had come. Then, on a wet October morn, packed with clothes for three seasons, a carton of tour-guides and a medicinal bottle of Marker’s Mark bourbon, we were off. We had made just one reservation, at the Rose Hill Inn in Versailles, KY. Coming back would have to take care of itself.

Roadside Online

Day One: Niagara Falls to Hubbard, Ohio

A postal clerk named Luis sounded our first “Godspeed,” within sight of the sign that says “Route 62 North Ends.” He stamped the local postmark on “We’re off!” cards to our family and we pledged him a line from El Paso. He was glad we had come.

Route 62 South, begins unannounced, an omen. We started from beneath a 20-foot plastic swirly cone called “Twist of the The MIST” frozen custard stand. For the first 150 miles, we will try to see familiar territory through unfamiliar eyes.

Historic icons abut Route 62 South — the former Bell Aircraft plant, blueprint of victory in World War II, and the organists’ origin, the Wurlitzer plant, now an architecture of lost chords. Continue reading Day One: Niagara Falls to Hubbard, Ohio

Roadside Online

Day Two: Hubbard to Canton, Ohio

When Doug lived in Youngstown, Ohio, its steel mills glared the smoky red of eternal sunset. World War II troop trains rushed through and Dad had charge of the tracks they trod. To eight-year-old eyes, it seemed like the center of the world.

Now, Youngstown’s twilight was economic. Nonetheless, it would be fun to find the old homestead, 440 Fairgreen. We drive out Belmont Avenue, looking for Fairgreen; after 10 minutes we pass beyond the city limits.

An amused tire clerk with a big, detailed map says that in ‘ Youngstown, street signs vanish, never to be replaced. Continue reading Day Two: Hubbard to Canton, Ohio

Roadside Online

Day Three: Canton to Washington Court House, Ohio

Overnight rain had diminished to drizzle and fog seeped up from the ground. We detoured through the haunting village of Canal Fulton, then zeroed in on Mrs. Voder’s Kitchen in Mount Hope. The inclement weather enhanced the atmosphere, the farms gleaming whitely against the leaden sky as the Amish gathered for the weekly horse auction.

Mrs. Voder’s rack was brim-full of Amish straw hats. Doug added his Buffalo Bisons baseball cap, which stood out like a yarmulke in Vatican City.

Mrs. Voder’s staff struggled mightily to replenish the buffet against the horde of hungry horse traders. There was bacon, sausage, pancakes, eggs, muffins and the peculiar dish called scrapple (contents unknown, probably just as well). We ate our fill and then some, still a paltry portion compared to the consumption of our fellow diners in dungarees.

Then we left Mount Hope to convene with the Amish of Wilmot and Berlin. Within minutes, we realized our folly. Continue reading Day Three: Canton to Washington Court House, Ohio

Roadside Online

Day Off: Lexington, KY

We have a cousin in Lexington and another in Cincinnati, sisters. It had been 10 years since we saw Cincinnati Lynn and at least 25 since we’d laid eyes on Lexington Kathy. Lynn drove down to join us; Kathy couldn’t decide which Lexington restaurant was best for dinner.

Tentatively, as the supposed uninformed visitors, we asked “Would you mind driving the eight miles out to Versailles and we’ll eat at Kessler’s?” We had the same waitress as the night before; dinner delighted everyone.

Then Doug suggested: “How about we take our desserts and go finish this off on the porch at Rose Hill?” It was an October twilight, temperature about 70. Traffic trickled by on Route 62 and the breeze tickled leaves from their Trees. The porch was decorated for Halloween. Ghosts of holidays past were evoked as wicker chairs crackled and the swing sighed. One guy, three gals, four desserts, a pitcher of lemon ice water and an evaporating bottle of Maker’s Mark. Twenty-five years passed by in two hours, and two hours passed by in a wink.

A stranger stepped onto the porch and this is what he said: “You folks look like you’re having a real good time.”

Roadside Online

Day Four: Washington Court House, Ohio to Versailles, Kentucky

Ohio once had three communities called Washington; this county seat had added “Court House” to distinguish itself from the rest.

It is now distinguished by several murals by an artist named Harry Ayshen. Two downtown illustrated a fire hall and a railroad station. Another to the south, billboard-sized, had a countryside scene so detailed and authentic that it seemed almost like a mirror or window, only its golden hues setting it apart from the land it depicted on this gray day.

Route 62 southward presents a smooth, broad two-lane. At New Market, a roadside house appeared to have been abandoned in good condition and then overgrown with vines. At Macon, we spotted an immaculate tobacco barn; thereafter, it seemed increasingly difficult to find no-smoking sections in restaurants.

We reached Ripley a bit before Sunday noon. A riverside saloon, three yellow stories with stained-glass windows, overlooked two barge lash-ups sliding down the Ohio. The door was open; a flier heralded a “lingerie show” at another saloon, two nights earlier.

“C’mon in,” bid a fellow holding court at a round oaken table.

“We were just looking for maybe a coffee until the antique barns opened,” we said.

“Got some instant,” he said. “No charge. We’re not open yet.

Can’t open ’til noon.” A few people sipping eye-openers around the bar seemed to contradict That prohibition.

“You’re not with the liquor board, are you?” he asked.

We ordered a bourbon, tipping the waitress its estimated price.

He brought a three-pound photo album documenting how he’d retrieved This place from ruin. It was called Snapper’s now.

“I’ve got another place a ways out of town,” he said. Doug recognized the name from the flier. “How’d the lingerie show go?” he asked.

For one moment, Mr. Jerry Jones, Host of Ripley, lost his composure. “How’d you hear about that?” he said quickly.

Doug pointed toward the sign.

“You’re very observant,” he said. “You sure you’re not with the liquor board?”

“I promise,” said Doug. “Anyway, it’s past noon.”

“Call again,” said the Host of Ripley. “Can’t figure out why you want to go to El Paso, though. I been there.”

Crossing the Ohio on a shaky two-lane bridge from Aberdeen, Ohio, we beheld the new paddlewheeler Mississippi Queen, tied up in downtown Maysville, KY, passengers debarking for a tour.

Maysville and Rosemary Clooney hold each other in equal esteem. She was born here and many of her family still live along the river. A showpiace carries her name, suitably ornate in the style of 1930s movie palaces, across the street from a fully restored Victorian three-story.

We pressed into Kentucky on the narrow roadways where Route 62 was born, a mere pencil line on the map, often with the speed limit 45. We wove around tobacco barns and Mail Pouch ads through the hamlet of Oddville (no post office) and on to Cynthiana, where a manufacturing plant startled us with first with its size and then with its product: Toyotas.

From here, Route 62 tracks due southwest, as if at odd with Lexington. Canopies of trees and guardrails of horse fences convey it along “Horse Alley” into the photogenic Midway, where a rail line splits the center of town, rows of shops on either side.

We paused at a restaurant recommended by AAA. It had nothing to our taste. Blindly, we turned to a little Versailles storefront, Kessler’s 1891.

It was entertaining an art exhibit this evening, but gladly satisfied our modest needs at dinner time. Our puny tab could not have made it worth their while- As we settled into slumber in the luxury of Julie’s Room at the 1823 Rose Hill Inn, we felt considerably in Kessler’s debt.

Roadside Online

Day Four: Versailles to Bardstown, Kentucky

Keeneland is to horse racing what St. Andrew’s is to golf.

Legions of stylish white-haired ladies show up daily only to admire the steeds in the warm-up rings, never going near the betting windows. Almost all the staff are older folks who work a couple months for a couple bucks and the joy of being near the breed. Best yet, beyond the Keeneland enclave, horse farms unfold as far as the eye can see.

We secure for $5 a table in The Equestrian Room, spreading out Racing Forms and bet sheets amid late-morning coffees.

Near the finish line, Doug finds a dime. “Rig deal,” says Polly, “I found a $20 bill at the window. The clerk told me not to even think about trying to find out whose it was.” It is a harbinger. With fewer than a dozen visits to any track, Polly has a sharp sense of handicapping. This day, her success is almost fictional, two trifectas (picking which horses will finish 1-2-3 in their exact order) and a horse in the money in every race except two. Slicksters with gold chains and fistfuls of 100’s start looking over her shoulder. Betting almost timidly, she wins nearly $260. Betting many of same horses, less daringly, Doug pockets about $20, covering the Equestrian Room’s tab for a superb lunch with Maker’s Mark pudding for dessert.

We are still emotionally high when we reach Lawrenceburg’s Joe Blackburn Bridge, a third of a mile long, 175 feet above the Kentucky River. Doug parks and walks out to photograph both it and the 275-foot Young’s High Railroad Bridge just to its south. Joe Blackburn, in the shape of an “S” and here since 1932, quivers with each passing car. Doug is glad very glad, to be off this bridge too far.

In Bardstown, we check into Wilson’s Motel, second-oldest in Kentucky. Our hosts descend from those for whom Cornell University is named.

Dagwood’s rejects us. When we request a non-smoking section, it is as if we had spat on the flag. During the dinner hour, it enforces a minimum higher than Joe Blackburn’s bridge. We don’t even say good-bye.

Now we tiptoe up to the stylish, flagstoned Kurt’s at the city limits, fearing that Dagwood’s demeanor speaks for all Bardstown. But Kurtz’s is all non-smoking and honored to serve us dessert and iced tea. Racks upon racks of fresh-baked pies hover along a back wall, served at a gracious pace by a young red-headed waitress.

Kurt’s has brochures for tours of the Maker’s Mark distillery, about 20 miles up in the hills. But it’s off Route 62 and not a practical diversion, Doug says, as then it’s “lights out” at the second-oldest motel in Kentucky.

Roadside Online

Day Five: Bardstown to Eddyville, Kentucky

At 6:30 a.m. an alarm goes off. Actually, it is the Old Kentucky Home Dinner-Train, named for a song by Bardstown’s favorite son, song writer Stephen Foster. In pajamas and slippers, Doug dashes out to take pictures.

Polly insists on the Maker’s Mark side trip. After all, she says, you are more consumed by this whiskey than this whiskey is consumed by you (the car pint is down to about a quarter) and when, ever, will you get this close? He vows “I’ll make it up to you” (“yeah, sure”) and up they go to commune with its casks, yeasts and unique waxy bottling process. He gets to “dip” his own bottle and they acquire a personalized label, although obtaining the bottle to match it will take $20 in phone calls and $50 in cash.

Doug “makes it up” by backtracking to Kurtz’s for lunch. Over lemon meringue, he spins the whole yarn for this waitress, an older woman, no less charming than the previous night’s redhead, whom he glowingly describes.

The waitress almost blushes: “That’s my daughter,” she says.

So again it is almost 2 p.m. before we move on The Other Road, here called the Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway. We see tobacco fields in Big Cliffy and a huge bulls-eye on a storefront in Clarkson (“The original Target store,” Doug wise-cracks.) Though Central City, Route 62 is Everly Brothers Boulevard and near Rockport, some Keeneland cash finds its way to the registers of two friendly “junctique” stores. One is a three-story warehouse defying full exploration: at the other, the proprietress offers us a kitten and cautions, “You don’t want to go to El Paso.”

The Central Time Zone sneaks in under our wheels. Princeton has a fading movie palace and an old filling station converted to living quarters, a hallmark of Other Road architecture. This one is unique in its shape, triangular, at an obtuse intersection.

The popular Kentucky Lakes are almost deserted on an autumn Thursday. A room at the Eddyville Regency costs but $25 and a tour guide ad tells us of a nearby breakfast spot called Doug’s.

Roadside Online

Day Six: Eddyville, Kentucky to Piggott, Arkansas

Not even the Mini-Mart clerk in Possum Trot has heard of Doug’s, so it’s on past dams and lakes to Paducah, KY, a bit hungry and one of us, at least, sorely in need of a hairdresser.

And out of the blue comes a big tin beanie called Hair Impressions, right across Route 62 (Irwin Cobb Boulevard) from a restaurant called Skin Heads.

Hair Impressions will take Polly in an hour, time for breakfast at Skin Heads, a local and national landmark, delicious and generous. Actually, breakfast took 45 minutes. We spent the other 15 coughing second-hand smoke back into the cool morning air of Paducah.

Polly and the Hair Impressionist hit it off like long-lost cousins and now, “civilized,” as she calls it, Polly plunges into Paducah’s plethora of antique shops while Doug explores a city that seems to succeed. More murals enhance its riverwall.

Again, it is almost 2 p.m. before they hit the road, named Alben Barkley Drive, for President Truman’s second-in-command, the Paducahn who coined the slang “veep.” At the edge of Wickliffe, KY, a huge cross stands on a distant hilltop. It seems significant yet remote. We pause for tea at cozy Christy’s, which this day is featuring quail, a delicacy which never has passed Doug’s lips. Tea time becomes dinner time.

In the style of the region, Christy’s offers “three sides” with dinner, including black-eyed peas and butter beans. The quail is a honey bird on the order of Cornish game hen and the whole tab comes in at barely $12, including Polly’s casserole and the next morning’s muffins, fresh from from the shelf.

We wonder about the cross, look at our watches and reluctantly move on. Within a few miles Route 62 plunges into construction designed to modernize the ancient arches bearing it first across the Ohio River, and then the Mississippi.

Route 62 paves less than a mile of Illinois, avoiding dreary Cairo which, at the confluence of two mighty rivers, seems ever on the verge of being swept away downstream. Missouri greets us with a cluster of route signs including “62,” and, separately, “B,” and “RB,” designation for local roads.

In sweet little Charleston, storefronts extend shingle roofs over the sidewalk. We buy out the drugstore’s supply of postcards, a watercolor sketch of the Congregational Church.

Near Sikeston, Routes 60, 61 and 62 all come together and then, a bit to The south, it looks like snow on the berrn. We’re seeing a cotton crop for the first time. We pluck a few bolls and stuff them into the glove compartment.

Route 62 bypasses New Madrid, a Mark Twain hangout, and so do we. We’re tired, it’s darkening and Piggott, Route 62’s Arkansas gateway, shows blue on the AAA map. It has neither approved accommodations nor attractions.

On Grand Avenue in Campbell, Missouri, a gas-station attendant assures us hospitality of Piggott, some 20 miles away. The next 16 hours will fulfill his prophecy.

Doug & Polly Smith outside of Toledo, OH

Day Seven: Piggott to Bentonville, Arkansas

As we checked into the Open Road Motor Lodge at 7 p.m. on Day Six, Polly asked about antique shops; would any open early enough that we could shop and get on the road before 2 p.m.

“Oh, yes,” said the clerk of the Open Road, “There’s the Enchanted Forrest, right downtown. It’s run by Mr. Forrest, he owns this place, too. There’s ladies lined up at the door even now, he’s got new Beanie Babies going on sale at 8 in the morning.” Then he added, “You’ll really like Piggott, you sure you don’t want to stay another night?” Mr. Forrest’s right-hand man had it right on the money.

Piggott is the definitive Route 62 community with some 2,660 citizens, two locally-owned drug stores, a town square and a mural of Piggott’s greatest hits.

They made a movie here, “A Face in the Crowd.” Ernest Hemingway, wed to a Piggott belle, framed the early chapters of “A Farewell to Arms” in a studio proudly displayed.

Truthfully, though, Hemingway hated it here. He couldn’t wait to get out of town.

Bearing new Beanies and old Depression plates, we sipped a final drugstore soda and prepared a farewell to Piggott’s arms.

Then a lens popped out of Polly’s glasses. On a Saturday morning we were pie-eyed in Piggott, a 50-mile detour from any city big enough to assure assistance.

There was a small brick optical office on North Third Street, with one car in its lot. Doug tapped on the locked door and a young woman answered. “I know you’re closed… ” Doug began, but she interrupted: “Of course we can help you,” she said. It took about 10 minutes to restore Polly’s fourth eye and she refused any payment, adding her “Godspeed” to all the others from Piggott.

What a wonderful place. Who asked Hemingway, anyway?

Next stop, Pocohontas, about 50 miles up the road. After Doug shopped for doughnuts and postcards, Polly for clothing and gifts, they met empty-handed and drove on a while before Polly finally said: “That was a very unfriendly town. I felt as if everyone was looking down at me.”

“Me, too,” said Doug. “I got yelled at for wanting doughnuts after noon.”

“They don’t need our money,” said Polly.

Route 62 winds through the southern Ozarks and on this Saturday, craft shows ruled. It was bumper to bumper through Hardy, population 510 with 75 speciality shops. Bluegrass music drifted from every shed. Late lunch at Salem’s South Fork Cafe brought us to Route 62’s mid-point, we calculated.

“Why on earth are you going to El Paso?” the waitress wondered, and then it was on through distinctively Arkansan places — Gassville, Flippin, Yeliville. At Green Forest, we hit the brakes for Polly’s Orchard restaurant, even with promising Eureka Springs and Berryville ahead.

Polly’s Orchard was a wise choice with its apple dumpling and folksy charm. Saturday nights turn Eureka Springs into a five- mile parking lot, a “No Vacancy” gauntlet, and it was really dark by the time we grasped at Gateway’s battered Battlefield Motel, a veritable Stalag 62.

“Eighty-four dollars plus tax, one bed, smoking’s OK,” announced Colonel Clerk. We’d rather sleep in the car. Fuses were short as we approached Bentonville, birthplace of Wal-Mart.

We randomed a Comfort Inn from a motel cluster. “One room left,” said the bright young Comfort Clerk. “Fifty-five dollars, no smoking. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, eh?” She smiled. Soon, so did we; the last room in Bentonville was the size of a small county and it had a jacuzzi.