Category Archives: Diane Felt

The Lincoln Highway Turns 100

Did you know that the Lincoln Highway turns 100 during 2013? This great highway shares a deep legacy with me. Of course, many people likely have similar sentiments, since it is the former work-horse highway that stretched from coast to coast across 12 states. It was the super-highway of its era, perhaps matching in fascination to the railroads of the time.

In 1913, it began in New York City’s Time Square at Broadway and 42nd Street. It continued through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California, where it ended at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The length was roughly 3,400 miles!

Route 30 across Iowa now is a seemingly straight shot across the land of verdant crops. However, when the Lincoln Highway was first laid out through Benton County, Iowa and due to the steep hills and ridges to the west of what is the U.S. 30 and State Highway 131 crossroads, the planners decided to take the route south (State Highway 131) about 4 1/2 miles and then west on what is now 13th Street through my hometown of Belle Plaine. Our family farm rested on the east side of Lincoln Highway and was located just over 2 miles south of Route 30.

Growing up along the Lincoln Highway was special. My Grandpa Horace was always especially fond of the old route as well as the railroad that went through town. When anyone referred to the Lincoln Highway, we knew exactly which route they were referencing. As Belle Plaine was also a railroad hub for the Chicago Northwestern and a popular stop, we also found our farm a straight route north and an easy walk for hobos needing a hot meal. There were marks made on telephone posts along Lincoln Highway, giving clues to these men that our farmhouse was a good stop. Mom would shoo us kids to the 2nd floor of the house while she fixed a quick, yet hot meal for many a grateful train-hitching fellow. Grandma Geneva, who formerly lived in the home, alerted Mom to the custom of providing meals.

When I think of the Lincoln Highway, I also pause to ask, “How many people experienced cattle drives on Lincoln Highway?” My Dad would have 60 head or so of cattle at the West Farm (the farm of my grandparents’ McLennan). After the cattle had grazed the pasture down, Dad would recruit Mom, the five of us kids, Grandpa Horace, and often a few of our fun-loving friends. We would drive the cattle by walking behind them, coaxing and scolding them, along the gravel road from the West Farm to our farm along busy 131. The cattle drive was about three miles long and took a couple of hours. What we discovered each time we did this was that cattle are innately stubborn, especially when they see a bridge to cross, where they lose their senses and become skittish. It would take Dad saying, “Come Boss” as he shook a pail of oats or corn. Once one cow took the bait and followed Dad across the bridge, the rest of these bovines followed suit. I guess we could credit it to their “herd mentality.”

Alas, the pace would change once the highway was in view. Dad would alert the Benton County sheriff ahead of time, so the sheriff could help stop or slow the traffic on the Lincoln Highway. Once we successfully drove the cattle from the gravel to the pavement, we would drive them north, just under a mile, to an open gate into the pasture by the grove of trees where deep grass awaited them.

As I check out the route of the Lincoln Highway, I also realize the many ties that I have to it. In Pennsylvania, it goes through Ligonier and Pittsburg, the area where my Grandaddy John Vale and his family of origin lived. When I went to college at Iowa State in Ames, I often walked along the Lincoln Highway en route to class. Finishing my bachelors degree at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois, I also drove Lincoln Highway to get to school from the western suburb of Batavia. My husband, son, daughter, and I lived in Batavia, Illinois for 20 years. The Lincoln Highway went right past our church where I worked as a preschool teacher also. The Highway went through North Aurora, Batavia, and Geneva, where we drove hundreds of miles over the years. On a special note, my husband, Steve, rode parts of the Lincoln Highway on his bicycle ride across the U.S. in 2005.

Needless to say, the Lincoln Highway deserves to be recognized as it turns a century. It was an integral force behind the transportation history of the United States. Many communities thrived because of the route passing through town, from diners to barber shops and full-service filling stations to motels, businesses welcomed many a traveler into their midst. I’d love to hear what memories you have of the Lincoln Highway. Perhaps you’d like to help the Lincoln Highway celebrate its Centennial. If so, I urge you to pay a visit to its website to see how you can participate in an area along the route near you:

Special Delivery

This true story is dedicated to my parents, Chuck and Betty McLennan. They were clever and creative, always embracing the child-at-heart in all of us, despite our age. Mom and Dad created an endearing custom that we enjoyed from the time I could first remember until the youngest of the five of us was probably in high school. How I miss my parents and thank them for their zest for live. Enjoy this Special Delivery story. Merry Christmas!


Snuggled together on my twin bed and sitting alongside me were my sisters, Charlene, Laurie, and Susan with Mama Betty holding our little brother, Charles, on her lap. Our evening bedtime routine often included storytime, but during the weeks before Christmas it typically involved listening to traditional Christmas stories. Saturday night baths were finished, everyone’s hair was neatly combed and pin curls or brush rollers carefully placed for us girls since we had Sunday school in the morning. Each of us had donned our flannel night gowns or pajamas that Grandma Geneva had sewn for our Christmas gifts the prior year. Hand-knitted slippers that Mama made last Valentine’s Day were keeping our toes cozy-warm.

There was a distinct chill in the air as the winter wind whistled through the pine tree windbreak to the north of the house. Located near Belle Plaine, Iowa, our two-story clapboard farmhouse was built in 1899 by our Great-Grandpa Patterson, so despite its former sturdiness, the years since had taken their toll. Therefore, a cold draft had a knack for creeping through the slightest crack in the old window putty, moving the white Priscilla curtains ever so slightly on the interior-side of the windows and sending a shiver up our spines.

Listening intently to Mama’s soft voice as she read of Dancer, Prancer, Donner, Vixen, and of course the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph, we were quickly startled by something strange outdoors.

“Rap, rap, rap,” came the pounding from the porch door.

“Ho, ho, ho!” boomed a low bass voice.

“Jingle, jingle, jingle,” rang out the deep clang of sleigh bells.

Without skipping a beat, the five of us kids sprang to the window and Mama carefully drew up the shade. Through the Jack Frost etching on the second-story window, we could make out a tall figure dressed in red, cap blowing in the wind, and black boots leaving tell-tale footprints in the fresh fallen snow down the front sidewalk.

“M-e-r-r-y  C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s!” shouted Santa as he waved and jumped the white picket gate at the end of the sidewalk.

Excitedly we jumped up and down, shouting, “Santa came!”

Without any coaxing we clamored single-file out of the bedroom to the top of the stairs, Mama leading the way with our toddler brother in her arms. She slowed our pace, saying, “Don’t slip on the stairs in your slippers now and hold the railing.”

Once on the main floor we zipped to the porch door where thrusting it wide open the surprise was revealed. In unison we shouted a resounding, “Yippee! Santa brought our Christmas tree!” There leaning against the worn wooden siding stood the most beautiful pine tree with a fragrant scent of Christmas. This fragrance also brought a rush of memories of our campsite in the thick pine forest of Point Beach State Park in Wisconsin where we camped just four months earlier but only during the oppressive heat of summer.

“Oh no!” announced Mama with sadness. “Daddy missed the excitement. Let’s go find him.”

We shut the porch door, walked into the warm kitchen, and heard a familiar noise.

“Clang, clang, clang…..scrape, scrape, scrape,” echoed the sounds from the basement. Daddy was stoking the furnace with corncobs, coal, and wood.

We threw upon the door to the basement and called to him, “Daddy, come quick. Santa came with a Christmas tree!”

“Just a minute, I’ll be right there,” he responded. Soon Daddy came walking up the old basement stairs from the musty confines of the furnace room and brushing coal dust from his hands. He was beaming from ear to ear and working to catch his breath. Daddy followed us to the front door where he caught his first glimpse of our Christmas tree brought magically to our home in the country.

“Wow, Santa brought a perfect tree again!” cheered Daddy.

An acknowledgement stirred in my eleven-year-old soul as the eldest child of us five. For I recognized the extra twinkle in Daddy’s blue eyes and his quick wink directed at Mama. I closed my eyes, knowing in my heart of hearts the secret of Christmas, and whispered to myself, “Thank you, Santa, for our Special Delivery!”

Circa 1955, Our Special Delivery Christmas Tree After Decorating


My Favorite Dessert

“What’s your favorite dessert?” Roberta asks. My quick reply, “Brownies, girl. Definitely brownies!”

As soon as I stake my claim to a favorite sweet, I begin to daydream……..

Ghiradelli Brownies in the making. Ghiradelli chocolate squares are placed between two layers of brownie batter, where they will melt into a delicious chocolate state!

Brownies. I’m talking the soft, chewy, gooey type of brownies. Even better, bring on the additional tidbits of little extras such as chocolate chips, candy bars, walnuts, or flavorings. Perhaps add a homemade cocoa frosting layer to the top. In my mind the scent of brownies wafting through the house on a cold winter’s day seems to up the temperature indoors to a manageable and cozy feel. Now top that brownie square with a dollop of ala mode, drizzle it with hot fudge sauce, and “Oh Mama!”

To take it up another notch, I would definitely pair that embellished brownie with a hot cup of dark roast coffee with just enough milk to enhance my sipping pleasure. As steam lazily drifts up from my cup of java, I savor the first bite of this chocolaty sensation coined a brownie. Sipping from the rim of my warm mug, I instantly reap the benefits of the coffee melting the brownie with each delicious swallow.

Roberta’s voice quickly snaps me from my wonderful chocolate visions. “You made homemade brownies?” Roberta asks. “What’s the occasion?”

I think. Should I mention that it’s for the potluck at church, or for a crowd of hungry teenagers, or for ‘tis-the-season-to-be-jolly time? Truth be told, they are to soothe this brown-eyed girl’s soul. For some folks, soul-soothing may be like gravy on mashed potatoes or chicken-fried steak. For me, brownies make the world go ‘round.

Roberta eyes the platter piled high with fresh cut brownie squares. Hospitality is extended as I invite my friend to select a brownie. Roberta carefully takes her first bite, closing her eyes, and relishing the moment, then pauses to inquire, “May I have the recipe?”

A Loch Ness Rainbow Story

Loch Ness 960 pxIt hit me that visitors to my website would like to know why I chose the cover photo of the rainbow over a body of water. Besides writing, two of my favorite pastimes are photography and travel. They seem to go hand in hand for me. I selected this photo as a welcome to my Heartfelt Legacies, LLC website because it has a very special story to accompany it.

My Great-Grandfather Lachlan McLennan left an incredible gift in the form of a 113-page journal that he wrote over the course of his lifetime. On page 11 he writes of having left Corntown, Scotland on May 29, 1869. On the journey that would take him from his homeland forever were several other family members, including his mother, Catherine McKay McLennan, his brother, Evan, his two sisters, Mary and Kate, and his brother-in-law, Hugh McIntosh. Several family members were in Oregon and Iowa at the time. Others either remained in Scotland preparing to join them later or chose to stay in Scotland. The travelers would make their way to Liverpool to gain passage on the City of Washington of the Inman Line for a 13-day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in New York on June 19, 1869.

It was on Sunday, May 30 via a steamer that the family continued on the Caledonian Canal, which flows through several lochs in the Scottish Highlands, including infamous Loch Ness. Lachlan wrote, “On either side of Lochness arose mountains, whose sloping sides reached to the edge of the water of the lake, clad with the emblem of the North, the blooming heather, amid which the deer and the doe roam in seeming primitive beauty. A stream of water clear as crystal, at first wends its devious course along in its agent, until at last it falls over an overhanging rock and resolves itself into a thick mist, in which all the colors of the rainbow are visible. The frolicsome fish of the lake leaping out of the water, here and there on the surface of its placed surface sometimes startle the beholder.”

Fast forward 141 years to June 27, 2010 with Steve at the wheel of our rental car driving along skinny two-lane A82 that runs on the west side of Loch Ness. He was not just driving, but driving behind the wheel on the opposing side of the car than we are accustomed in the U.S. and on the opposing side (not the wrong side) of the road. As the rain persisted, I couldn’t help but think of the lack of views that would be obstructed by it and the low-clinging clouds. However, my spirits were not dampened as I was steeped in anticipation of seeing my Great-Grandfather’s home village of Lochcarron, nestled along the coast of the salt-water loch bearing the same name, but written as Loch Carron. We still had some kilometers to cover before nearing Lochcarron.

Keeping my eyes riveted to Loch Ness, should I have the stroke of luck in seeing the Loch Ness Monster, I was struck by the sudden streaks of sunlight that broke through the gray clouds. It shone much like a spotlight for a starlet on stage, only focusing its light on just one small spot on the eastern hillside. The greens seem to reflect the same intensity as the sunshine. Then as if on cue, the rainbow appeared, a half-arch over the verdant vegetation. I shouted, “Please stop the car at the next pull off!” Seeing a spot on the left, Steve quickly slowed and  parked to the side. Protecting my camera from the raindrops that continued to fall, I snapped photos. Recalling Lachlan’s description of rainbow colors, I stood in awe, imaging what it was like for them on a steamer, family either sitting or standing side by side with their meager belongings stowed in a wooden trunk and soaking in the passing scenery for one last time.

I’ll never look at a rainbow quite the same way. Instead I stop to reflect on the journey associated with Loch Ness and traveling to a new country for both Great-Grandfather Lachlan and me!

Where have you traveled? I’d love to hear about your favorite spots, whether in the United States or abroad.

~ Diane