The Bucolic Mechanic by the Mississippi
By Kalpana Sunder | Published: 15th June 2014 06:00 AM |
It’s a ‘Tom Sawyer moment’… the live band belts out the Tina Turner classic Rollin’ on the river as I take in vistas of the chocolate brown river, while the sun changes hues from a brilliant orange to a peachy pink. Ol’ Man River, the evocative Mississippi that flows through heartland America, much loved by Mark Twain, author, traveller and riverboat captain, is a working river that starts in Minnesota near the Great Lakes. The name Mark Twain is a river measurement: mark twain equals two fathoms, or around three metres. The Great River Road is an interstate network of highways that borders and flirts with the Mississippi for 2,400 miles. I just have time for a short cruise on the ‘Celebration Belle’, a recreated steamboat with a churning red paddle wheel. The captain says each year from mid-December through February, the area is home to bald eagles making their annual southern migration from Canada to the unfrozen waters of the Mississippi River. He points out a system of locks and dams designed to tame the rapids, thanks to which as many as 15 barges loaded with goods from grain and fuel to gravel, can travel at a time.
I am in Illinois, on a bus tour with an international group that reminds me of ‘Mind your Language’—two amorous Portuguese men, a ‘no speak English’ smiling Chinese shutterbug couple, a gregarious Mexican woman and two sunny Aussie journalists. Illionois is a region of corn fields, giant sprinklers and rolling hills; bucolic bliss far removed from the restaurants, theme parks, mega shopping malls or the hustle and bustle of big town Chicago. The omnipresent motif here is the Mississippi River—a witness of several Civil War battles, with Confederate and Union ships battling for control of the strategically vital artery. It’s the region of the Quad cities, which are actually five cities on either side of the mighty Mississippi in Iowa and Illinois.
Moline, the town that I chose as a base, is French for mills, harking back to a time when they lined the Mississippi banks. Once it was the preserve of Chief Black Hawk and his indigenous tribes, later settled by Europeans. John Deere is the local icon; a Vermont-born blacksmith who changed the history of farming by developing a steel plow instead of cast iron. In 1848, he set up a factory in Moline, which is today the largest and most modern facility making harvesting combines. Today, the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline is a mammoth enterprise: a Fortune 500 Company with 2,700 employees and more than 60,000 employees worldwide, shipping harvesters to more than 35 countries. Technology rules in this state-of-the-art factory. Twenty-two lasers (costing as much as $1million apiece) cut out shapes out of sheets in a computerised operation. The steel sheets are stored in towers as large as skyscrapers. The paint facility is manned by Japanese robots. Most tour guides like ours are retired employees who volunteer to do guided tours, since they know their stuff. At the John Deere Pavilion, which is the ultimate playground, the leaf green corn harvester looks like a giant monster with claws—it makes a great photo-op, especially while sitting inside a wheel as large as a room. Both children and grown-ups clamber on to the mega machines pretending to be cotton pickers, twiddle with the controls and play farmers for a day. The earliest models of lovingly restored John Deere tractors occupy pride of place, as do as prototypes of futuristic equipment. Large photographs pictorially review of how far farm technology has come. At the gargantuan John Deere store next door to the factory, you can pander to your inner child and buy model tractors, T-shirts, hats and other memorabilia; all embellished with the John Deere logo, of course. There is also a special area for children with small tables and chairs and drawing equipment. The inventiveness of the US of A is apparent at Moiline, by the fact that even agriculture—a prosaic tourist theme—can be showcased in an innovative manner and converted to a tourist attraction with imagination.
Reaching there: Fly to Chicago through Abu Dhabi on Ethad Airways and drive to Quad cities.
What to do: Take a cruise on the Mississippi, a tour of the John Deere factory and Pavilion, visit the Mississippi Palisades State Park for great river view and hiking trails and visit micro breweries like Great River Brewery.
Stay: The Jumer’s Casino
Hotel in Rock Island
Eat/Drink: Hot fudge sundae or old-fashioned soda fountain drink at Lagomarcino’s in downtown Moline.
For more info, visit www.visitquadcities.com