A museum to the “Last of the Gladiators”

For a lot of us who grew up in the 70’s, there was no one cooler than Evel Knievel. I remember watching him jump 10 Kenworth trucks from my grandparent’s house and watching other many other jumps with my dad on Wide World of Sports. I watched every special and collected many of his toys. I’d be sitting on a small fortune if I still had them.

Did you ever wear a homemade jacked up Halloween costume as a kid? Especially when you were too young to know it was jacked up? My mother made me an Evel Knievel costume for a scouting talent show when I was in second grade. Mom made that Evel Knievel jumpsuit “from scratch” out of red, white and blue felt. I took a Minnesota Vikings football helmet, covered it in aluminum, and had my own crash helmet.

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I felt so cool in that foil-covered helmet. I set up many ramps and jumped many “cars” in the alley behind my house. I felt like I was bulletproof. I bought a costume of my own a few years ago and last Halloween I did my best impression of Evel’s son Robbie Knievel, goatee and everything.


When I saw the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, Kansas was having its Grand Opening during the last weekend in June I was as excited as that 7-year-old kid again and thought, “ We really have to go.” We had prior plans, so we moved the museum trip to mid June.

Always game for a road trip, AJ had only one request: Chicken George. That meant that the trip would include returning through Clinton Iowa, but more about that later. I think she was just trying to get us a longer more scenic ride. She does that sometimes, especially if the actual destination doesn’t grab her.

It’s summer in the Upper Midwest so we decided to leave the leathers at home and travel with raingear as our outer layer. Worked out well, as we got rained on twice. Our rain pants never made it out of the saddlebags. Not worth the bother, I thought, besides dry jeans are in the saddlebags. The weather reports called for heat in the mid 90s and some rainstorms. A sure guarantee for rain on a bike trip is forgetting your rain gear.

I love getting on the road and leaving our cares behind, but sometimes just getting going can be stressful. Last minute packing, wondering did I pack this or that?? Packing the day before helped us get an earlier start on Friday morning and we were able to have a chilled breakfast at home and finish some last minute work assignments and still be on the road by 10 AM.

We rode over 1500 miles in three days, no time for the luxury of all back roads, this trip would have lots on freeway. We rode Minnesota 21 south to New Prague and East on Minnesota 19 to Interstate 35. I 35 took us through Albert Lea and Des Moines to Kansas City. In Kansas City we picked up Interstate 70. I 70 is part of the Kansas toll way.
The I-Pass we picked up in Illinois and used on our trip to Rolling Thunder did not work here. A five-dollar toll to Topeka, no big deal, but it would be nice if these toll roads could get on one system. It was a 526-mile day by the time we got to Topeka.

We’d been on the road a good 8 hours and so we decided to get dinner BEFORE checking into our hotel. We had reservations at the Hampton Inn (less than two blocks away) and it could wait, we on the other hand were sweaty, dusty, hot, tired and bordering on “hangry.” Dinner was at the Texas Roadhouse, and in our bedraggled condition we were glad to see the rest of the clientele dressed very casually. We’ve been known to wander into some of the nicest restaurants looking all rode hard in the past. We enjoyed steaks and veggies to “try to eat healthy-ish”. Their dinner rolls should be illegal they are so good.

Fed, we dragged our rode-hard, weary carcasses over to the Topeka Hampton Inn. We’re finding that Hampton Inn’s are very accommodating in letting us park the bike under the overhang by guest registration. I find it nice to come down to breakfast and see the bike safe and dry. The desk clerk had his motorcycle parked out front too, and we chatted about riding as we registered. Nothing like having a kindred spirit behind the desk.

Saturday morning brought a Hampton Inn breakfast, nothing fancy (scrambled eggs, sausage, yogurt, fruit, cereal and waffles) but more than the carb rich Danish and coffee offerings other places have. Hunger satisfied for the moment, we drove the 15 minutes through town to the museum.

We arrived just as a tour bus with seniors was going in so we took a few minutes to let them get ahead of us and took a few outside pictures and chatted with a retired Air Force Vietnam vet. He pulled up in a shiny red classic Oldsmobile. We talked for some thirty minutes about where we served, experiences with the Veteran’s Administration, and life. We must have made an impression on him as his daughter found us on our FACEBOOK page about and told us about he dad recalling our visit during their Father’s Day Brunch.

Admission is $20.00 with various discounts for military, AA etc. I also picked up a ticket for the virtual reality experience called “THE JUMP”. You simulate an actual motorcycle jump. I’d seen this on YouTube and had to try it.

The crowd was ahead of us as we entered so we got an private tour in the initial section of the museum. Our guide explained the connection between Topeka and Evel Knievel that include Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, Joie Chitwood and Robert Craig Knievel. Chitwood, a Topeka native, inspired Knievel to become a daredevil after the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show appeared in Butte, Montana.

I was in absolute awe seeing the jumpsuits and bikes I seen on TV so close I could have touched them. On display were many of EK’s jump bikes and leathers from Dec 31st 1967 Caesars’ Palace jump to May 26th 1975 Wembley Stadium jump and so on. We also got to see his restored travel semi and the Snake River Canyon X-2 Skycycle.

“The Jump” is fabulous and much better than I expected. My brain knew I was on a static motorcycle but I still leaned with what I was seeing and feeling. I even stood up on the pegs during the jump. Best five dollars spent that day!

Having paid homage to my childhood hero it was time to made good on the promise to AJ for the Chicken George. Back on the toll way we paid another 5 dollars leaving Topeka for Kansas City. The quickest route had us back on I35 north to Des Moines where we picked up I 80 East towards Davenport.

We were making good time but some ominous clouds lay ahead of us. The weather alert interrupted our “road music” warning about a storm (just ahead of us) travelling at 50 mph with 70 mph wind and hail with the potential for property damage and injury to anything out doors. That was enough for me to look for a pull off location.

We’ve often ridden in the rain but weather alerts, torrential downpours, hail, and nearby lightning strikes get our attention. We pulled into a gas station awning and put on our raingear tops before we got dumped on and quickly realized this was no spring shower. We were wearing half helmets and even with their integrated visors, my visibility shrank to almost nothing. We pulled off just in time to check out the World Biggest Truck stop in Walcott, Iowa. We waited out the storm and let it get well ahead of us before riding into Davenport. We rode north on Hwy 61 and east on Hwy 30 into Clinton.

Clinton, Iowa is a charming little Mississippi River town, a favorite of ours on the Great River Road and home to the Candlelight Inn and their special “Chicken George.” AJ and I found this place a few years ago while riding through western Illinois and eastern Iowa on a 90 degree day. We were hungry and she saw this place. I wondered about how a couple of road weary bikers would be seen at a marina. AJ said “they look just like us- hot and sweaty” and in we went. Boat people are not that different from bikers.

From the Candlelight Inn website http://candlelightinnrestaurant.com/about.html

The Story of Chicken George
In the early 1970s, Bob Prescott, founder and father of the current Candlelight Inn owner, Matt, was busy serving his guests at the Candlelight Inn in the 100 block or West Third in downtown Sterling. One of his regulars, a gentleman named Roger Young, came in to dine. Roger asked Bob for “something different.” Immediately, Bob thought about his fry cook George’s new dish. George was de-boning and cutting up chicken breasts and lightly battering them. He then fried them up and served them – to himself. Even Bob hadn’t tried them yet! Bob asked George to fix some up for Roger, and the rest is history.

Roger loved them, and asked Bob what he should ask for when he came in to eat the next time. Bob told him to ask for “Chicken George” because that was the name of the cook who made it. The news of this new chicken dish spread with people coming in requesting it before it even made it on the menu! Word of mouth had made Chicken George famous.

Named after the cook who brought it into the restaurant, the three Candlelight Inn Restaurants now serve an average of 6,000 pounds of Chicken George each week.
After dinner, with enough left overs for tomorrow’s breakfast, we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois and rode north on Highway 84 to a legendary biker bar in the area called Poopy’s Pub and Grub. Still full on Chicken George we decided to skip the restaurant checked out the live band playing out in back and pick up a few souvenirs in the gift shop. A few years back there was also a tattoo shop in the gift shop but they had expanded into their own place just up the road. We enjoyed the bonfire and band, danced to a few songs then headed back to the hotel.

Pulled in for the night at another Hampton Inn (I really liked these places and I get points) and joined two other bikers under the overhang. Sunday morning after breakfast (enjoying the Chicken George for a second time), we backtracked on Highway 30 again and headed north on Hwy 61 to Highway 64 and then west into Anamosa and the National Motorcycle Museum. The National Motorcycle Museum, founded in 1989, displays over 450 motorcycles, showcasing over a 100 years of motorcycle history and culture. I could again pay homage to Evel Knievel and both the CPT America and Billy bikes from Easy Rider. I’m always amazed at the antique flat track bikes. Riding 100 mph in the early 1900’s with NO BRAKES.

Leaving Anamosa we headed for Austin, MN and our last stop on this road trip, the Spam Museum. As luck would have it, the most direct route kept us mostly off the freeways. Continuing west on Hwy 151 we veered north Interstate 380 and onto Hwy 218 in Waterloo. Needing a gas and lunch stop we found the Dirty Dog American Bar and Grill in Waverly, IA. My mango chipotle burger was delicious and AJ’s salad had so much meat you couldn’t see the greens. Now that’s healthy(ish) eating biker-style!
Back on Hwy 218 we rode north towards Austin and got caught in much less perilous rainstorm, than yesterdays. Once in town, AJ navigated turn-by-turn, necessary, as the museum would close in 30 minutes. We pulled up to the museum (relocated since our last visit) now in downtown Austin, and found a pop culture bonanza. We saw a homemade employee-built SPAM rocket, walked through displays of SPAM around the world, saw how SPAM supported the troops overseas and watched Monty Python’s spam skit as well as scenes from the musical SPAMALOT. We closed down the gift store with our must have purchases.


Just as we were about to leave one of our friends from Rochester, MN, commented on our post that he too was in town supervising a softball tournament. We rode over to visit and make future plans and worked our way back to I 35 and back to Jordan.
Three full days, over 1500 miles, old and new attractions and time spent with my best friend and riding partner. That’s packing a lot of adventure into a weekend.

Hints from the road –
If there’s any chance of rain, pack the rain gear
Pack the night before
Before leaving one meal, have a plan for the next
Have a plan even if you don’t follow it