Watson to Farina. 18.6 miles/426.1 total
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Leaving from the Watson Civic Center at 10:30 in the morning, down Illinois Route 37 through a succession of very small towns, heading for one called Farina. It’ll be all country today, with relatively few trucks, partly because it’s the weekend, and mostly because this road runs parallel to the interstate.
I tried an experiment today, but it didn’t work. I had one of those light bulb over the head moments yesterday. I had two thoughts. The first was that I could hitchhike from the motor home to the starting point, eliminating the need to go back and get the car (or bike) at the end of the walk, thus saving lots of gas money; the second was, why the hell didn’t I think of this earlier? (This is why I’m always open to suggestions from the peanut gallery.) Maybe I thought of it early on and just eliminated the possibility of hitchhiking. But this time I figured that since these Illinois folks have been so generous with their ride offers, it would be a cinch to get a ride.
So I tried it. I parked the motor home and car in a parking lot by the railroad tracks in Farina, my point B for the day, and went out onto the road. Almost immediately I got a ride from a farmer in a pickup truck, just as I had expected to. But the ride was like that one Steve Martin got in the movie The Jerk, when he started out from home to make his fortune--from one end of his front yard to the other. Well, I got a ride, literally, from one end of Farina to the other, about six blocks. I don’t even know why the guy picked me up. Then I stood for about 20 minutes at an intersection, getting no rides at all. Finally I figured out that since Route 37 is right by the interstate, no one is going very far on it. They’re going from one end of town to the other, or maybe to the next farm up the road, but not eighteen or twenty miles on this dinky rural road. If they want to go any distance, like to Effingham, they’ll hop on the expressway. If I was lucky I might have gotten rides from one little town to the next, with some waiting in between.
I figure I should have hitchhiked back when I was on U.S. 421 and 231 in Indiana, where the road had no interstate counterpart and many people were going long distances. Well, I’ll get another chance to use my thumb before this thing is over.
So I ended up having to walk about a half mile back to the motor home, get the car, and drive it up to Watson.
It’s cold and sunny, in the mid-40s. It’s three miles into the walk, and since so little is happening today, I’ll tell you that I’m crossing the Little Wabash River. The Little Wabash is a tributary of the Wabash, which in turn empties into the Ohio River, which empties into the Mississippi. Today it’s swollen to about 30 feet across from the recent rains.
It’s two hours into the walk and there’s nothing to report except that I found a nickel, always a good thing. But now I’m entering Mason, population 400. Just after the sign I spy a marble monument with a brass plaque on it. It reads, “Dedicated to the memory of Roswell B. Mason, 1805-1892, builder of the charter lines of the Illinois Central Railroad. Erected September 27, 1956, on the one hundredth anniversary of the completion of construction at this place, which was thereupon named in his honor.”
Route 37, is, for now, running along the Illinois Central tracks, and these little towns are railroad towns, just like the ones up in Indiana. With this information in mind I could speculate that Watson was a railroad guy, too.
I take the spur off 37 into the center of the village of Mason, mostly because I’m looking to buy a drink of some kind to carry as an extra, since I don’t know which, if any, of these towns have stores. The only thing in Mason that resembles a commercial establishment is a laundromat, with four washing machines (two of them out of order) and two dryers (one of which might work) Outside is a pop machine that's several years from being in working order. They’re having a blood drive over at the Mason Christian Church and Academy, but that’s a rather excessive way to get some juice and cookies, considering that I still have over twelve miles to walk today.
The next little place I come to is Edgewood. It has its own exit from I-57, and there’s a Marathon station about a half mile off Route 37, but I really don’t feel like walking an extra mile round trip to get a drink. I try another soda machine, in front of the ice cream place, which is closed for the season. This machine works, but won’t accept either of my dollar bills. Denied again.
Just inside Edgewood is the American Legion, with a couple of heavy artillery guns trained toward the west, just in case Missouri decides to attack Illinois, I guess.
The water tower says Edgewood was established in 1857. So it’s another railroad town, and I'm seeing a pattern. I stop at a craft store and ask if there’s some place to get a drink in this town, and sure enough, there’s a grocery store a block of so off Route 37. Good news, and I get my extra water.
Edgewood comes and goes. A little outside of Edgewood I leave Effingham County and enter Clay County. This one was also named for the Great Scary-Looking Compromiser from Kentucky. Clay was in fact an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1824, the year the county was formed.
At about 13 miles, I enter Fayette County, which was named for our old friend the Marquis de LaFayette, after he visited Illinois on his grand tour of the United States in 1824-25. Hmmm. Maybe they’ll name something after me after I finish my grand tour.
Shortly thereafter I enter LaClede. LaClede doesn’t even rate a population on its sign. Probably because it’s under 100, from the looks of it. Someone is burning garbage in a fifty-gallon drum in their front yard, up by the road. Three boys are riding quads up and down the roadside. A chained-up Doberman barks at me. As near as I can tell, there isn’t a single stick built house in LaClede. They’re mostly single-wide trailers, and a few prefab modular ones. And each trailer is trashier than the last. The whole place is like a nasty, spread-out trailer park. Even the LaClede Church of the Nazarene is a double wide, with a steeple stuck on top.
The other purpose LaClede serves, besides being home to a few dozen extremely poor people, is as a dumping ground for the railroad. All along the tracks are thousands of used railroad ties, piled high. LaClede’s the kind of place where no one would object to that. Hell, they probably take the ties and burn them in the winter. And piles of old railroad ties look better than the houses around here, seriously.
LaClede gets my vote as the crummiest place I’ve seen in Illinois so far. Even the name sounds degenerate. “Yeah, those are the LaClede boys, Larry and Darryl and his other brother Darryl. And their sister Carla. Or is she their mother? Maybe both.”
The stretch from LaClede to Farina, as the sun begins to sink in the sky, is a tedious one. The gigantic grain elevators of Farina come into view about five miles before I get there, and grow by small degrees as the time goes by.
At last, nearing the end of my journey, I enter Farina, population 600. One can only speculate that the town got its name from being a grain collection and milling site. I take a little trip off Route 37 into the center of the town, but there’s very little else to see. I walk by the U.C.C. church and the First Southern Baptist Church, which is the first Southern Baptist church I’ve seen, at least called by that name. Maybe this is an indication that I am closing in on the south.