Midwestern Landscapes

It was surprisingly rural so close to Chicago as I continued down the country roads through Illinois & Wisconsin.  I went through Kankakee and then up State Road 47.  It was mostly corn fields and evidently home to a thriving ethanol industry. The gas stations sell E85, which I understand that some cars can use. I don’t think mine can, so I didn’t try.

I crossed into Wisconsin in Walworth County.  Southern Wisconsin sort of merges with Northern Illinois.  There is rich, black soil.

Not many people know it but it used to be that some of the Southern Wisconsin counties were prime tobacco country. It was the cash crop that paid for a lot of the mortgages. It was also a way that young people could make some money.  It helped to be young, since hoeing tobacco was almost literally bank breaking work. I still recall the tobacco barns in Dane County. They were long and narrow and had open sides so that the crop could dry out.  I dislike cigarettes, but the smell of tobacco curing is actually kind of pleasant. Wisconsin tobacco tended to be chewing tobacco and not used for smoking. They don’t grow much tobacco anymore.  Demand has largely dried up; tobacco support programs are gone and besides growing the weed is really hard work.  Young people have other options or are lazier, depending on how you want to view it. Tobacco is a finicky crop that requires significant skill and experience to cultivate and cure. 

Chrissy’s father used to grow a little tobacco. 

I kept on going north and caught up with I-94 at Johnson Creek. I needed new running shoes, so I stopped at Johnson Creek outlets. They have a Nike outlet there.  This is a new development.  The area around the freeway exit is not part of the original Johnson Creek.

I used to stop in Johnson Creek or nearby Helenville when I rode my bike between Madison and Milwaukee. Jefferson County, which sits between Dane and Waukesha, was (and still mostly is) a nice mix of farms and little towns.  I used to also ride from Lacrosse to Milwaukee, which required an overnight stop. One trip, I made it as far as Johnson Creek. I was looking for a hotel, but they were all filled. I ended up at a place called “the Gobbler”.  It was a funky place, sort of a 1970s dream with a kind of a purple color scheme and shag carpets. They only had one room left, which was a bridal room.  I was tired and it was getting dark so I took it. That night I slept in a water bed with a mirror on the ceiling over it. It came with a dinner as part of the package. The dinner was for two, so they saved a little money on me, although I ate a lot.     

They are out of business now.  

The pictures are a barn in Walworth county, black soil in Northern Illinois and a cornfield in Northern Illinois on state road 47.