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Crossing West Virginia, Into Pennsylvania
Lincoln Highway Part 16, October 22, 2009
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-10-26 10:19 (KST)   
This article is sixteenth in a series of reports that documents life in small towns along four major highways in the United States during these hard times. It is NOT a survey but an attempt to come a fuller understanding of the land and the people that are typically under-represented by mainstream media. You can find the author's previous article here.  <Editor's Note>
Coming into West Virginia from Ohio we took a wrong turn and found ourselves going over the Ohio River on the old bridge ($0.50 for cars, $0.75 for us). Driving north along the river for a few miles brought us to Chester late in the afternoon where the last rays of the sun were still on the Teapot.

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Teapot, Chester, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

We crossed back over the Ohio on the new bridge and stayed the night at Wal-Mart in Liverpool, Ohio; then crossed back over to Chester the next morning. There were many cafes and taverns on Carolina Avenue, the main street in town. We stopped at the Chamber of Commerce -- also Serendipity Sewing -- and talked for some time with Marsha Numi.

Marsha Nurmi, Chamber of Commerce, Chester, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

Marsha said that even though Chester was in West Virginia it was considered part of the greater Pittsburgh, Pa., area. There had been a major change in the economic base as the town's peak number of pottery makers (140) dwindled to the current three. The Homer Laughlin China Company, maker of FiestaWare dishes, is still in existence and its small outlet store draws crowds on specific weekends to buy factory seconds at a big discount.

The Teapot is a holdover from the sixties, when potteries, steel mills and other businesses in Chester were doing well. The story goes that William Devon cobbled together the Teapot to attract people to his pottery store and was used as a concession stand to sell souvenirs. He sold his pottery business in 1947, along with the "World's Largest Teapot." After years of wrangling, the Teapot was moved to its present location, renovated, and dedicated as the "Chester Teapot" in 1990.

Nowadays the economic base for Chester is tourism -- particularly a race track was opened to draw people to the area. In addition, limited gambling is an attraction. Cafes can have up to five slot machines while the VFW can have 10.

Sueko told Marsha this was her first trip across the United States and she had seen many different kinds of people, and wondered if there were any Asian-Americans or African-Americans in Chester. Marsha said there were none, and there was still an active KKK.

Sign in front of The Gun Shop, Chester, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane
JUST A FEW DOORS DOWN FROM THE CHAMBER was The Gun shop with a rather whimsical sign sitting on the sidewalk. We stopped to talk with the owner, Kurt Parkins.

First, we asked Kurt about the laws surrounding gun ownership in the state. He said that, legally, one could openly carry a firearm in public, but socially people chose not to -- much like our home state, Arizona.

When we asked how business was going -- we'd heard a lot about people rushing to buy guns and ammunition based on rumors that the Obama administration was going to shut down or curtail both -- Kurt said that there was a brief spurt, sales were down because people had run out of money. As for why, he said, "People get nervous." This was echoed in a large poster in the window with words by John Taffin.

Poster, The Gun Room, Chester, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

These are the good old days for shooting sportsman and it's up to all of us to protect our freedom. Don't buy a gun out of fear or hatred. Buy a gun because you live in a country where you can . . . -- John Taffin

THERE ARE ONLY THREE MILES OF THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY IN WEST VIRGINIA so before you know it, you're in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and wishing you weren't. The road is bumpy, curvy, potholed and loaded with traffic, especially late in the afternoon.

We camped one night at the Wal-Mart in Greenburg and pushed on the next day when we came across one of Wayne Fettro's murals that are along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor which starts east of Pittsburgh and ends just before Philadelphia. Much of the project was funded by the federal Transportation Enhancement award and through the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Each mural cost $6,000 to $14,000.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor mural, east of Greenburg, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

THE NEXT MORNING WE REALIZED IT WAS SEPTEMBER 11TH and the Lincoln Highway ran close to Shanksville where Flight 63 crashed, killing all 40 passengers aboard.

As you approach the turn off on US? from the west, you come on a billboard put up by other groups. The site is just a few miles to the south.

Billboard near turnoff on US 30 to Shanksville, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

The National Park Service had already held an event earlier that morning. For the rest of the day, informal events continued including one where an American flag with the words "OUR NATION WILL ETERNALLY HONOR THE HEROES OF FLIGHT 93" printed on it was held aloft by the participants who were asked where they were from and then add a few words.

Flight 63 Memorial September 11, 2009, Shanksville, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

One of the participants was Ms. Fraser whose 51-year-old sister perished. When asked if United States has become safer since 9/11, she said she thought it had.

"However, this site hasn't had the media attention it deserves," she said. "Hopefully, the proposed memorial will bring more people here in 2011."

THE NEXT TOWN OF ANY SIZE WEST OF SHANKSVILLE is Bedford. A historical marker says it was settled about 1750 and was known as Raystown and had a trading post and Fort Bedford from which it takes its current name. Bedford became famous for its medicinal springs and by 1855 had become a spa. It still remains a popular tourist destination and its heritage buildings are well cared for.

We thought the Lincoln Motor Court was in Bedford, but it was not. We missed it by about five miles to the west, so we had to backtrack.

There wasn't an office as such, but instead a window in a small anteroom with information about the Court on the wall. We could see somebody through the glass was on the phone so we had time to read. In sum, it said "motor courts" had their heyday in the '20s and '30s with their individual cottages equipped with modern bed, indoor toilet facilities, plastic tiled showers, radios, and hot water heat. The current owners -- Bob and Debbie Altizer -- had owned the Court since 1983 and have kept as original as possible: quite a feat as it was built in 1945. At one time there were ten motor courts in Bedford County, but the Lincoln is the only one left standing and has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and TV specials.

The "somebody" was Bob who said to go around to the rear of the Court if we wanted to see one of the rooms. We did and not only he but Debbie appeared as well. The room was as advertised. While I'm not old enough to have been motor-courting in the 1940s, I remember staying in such places in the 1950s and even as late as the early 1970s when I got a room in Flagstaff, Arizona for $6. This one didn't have that old, smoked-in, damp smell. Wonderful!

Bob and Debbie, Lincoln Motor Court, Bedford, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

Besides running the Motor Court, Bob also has a photography business named Lincoln Highway Photography, so we found common ground. As with so many other businesses, Bob said that while the number of clients had stayed pretty much the same, people are down-sizing and the amount they're willing to spend has decreased.

WE'D SEEN THE FAMOUS BEDFORD COFFEE POT when we backtracked, but I'd hesitated to shoot it because the fence behind it made a conflicting background. However, when we went past it as we continued our way east, there was a sign saying something about a Make-A-Wish Convoy. We stopped and investigated.

According to Tom Massafero the Convoy had been held every year since 2000 to benefit the services of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania. This year there were 38 trucks, each one with a "wish kid" on board.

I already knew that the Make-A-Wish foundation fulfills the special wishes of children under the age of 18 who have a diagnosed life-threatening illness, but I'd never heard of the Convoy.

Tom said the trucks would start come out of a side street onto the highway and turn in front of the Coffee Pot and I was welcome to shoot pictures. The event wouldn't start for an hour so I had time to figure out how to position myself. I decided to be on the far side of the highway so the trucks would turn in front of me and, if they weren't going too fast and I was quick enough, I could have the Coffee Pot in the background.

A good idea, but executing it was something else: the trucks shot out of the side street like startled jack rabbits and there was no time to carefully frame the truck and the Pot. And almost no time between one truck so it was difficult to check the monitor and see what I was getting. But after a dozen or so I felt I had a good shot of the truck with the Coffee Pot in the background.

Wish Kid Convoy truck rounds corner in front of giant coffee cup, Bedford, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

But you couldn't see the wish-kid! I ran between trucks to the other side and did my best to run alongside each truck and frame the kids looking out the window and waving with my camera click, click, clicking three frames a second. I got just one. The kid was moved but clear enough and, interestingly enough, you could see the driver.

Wish kid on board
©2009 D. McLane

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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