First Time in John Wayne’s Birthplace

Despite a late night of talking, we all got up and moving the next morning because we wanted to make the most of the day.  Steve volunteered to cook us breakfast, and it was really good.  Iowa is known for pork, and Steve had bought some bacon from a local butcher.  It was really good, but I actually liked the scrambled eggs more because he cooked them in a little bacon grease.  I hadn’t had that in a while and the flavor always reminds me of my childhood.

Mmmmm bacon.  It tasted as good as it looked.

After breakfast we said goodbye to Hurley and headed to see John Wayne’s birthplace and museum.  Steve had picked this area for the museum and he remembered that Lee is a huge John Wayne fan, which I thought was really sweet.  Lee grew up watching the Duke and has seen almost all of his movies.  I’ve even seen a few myself (big fan of Rooster Cogburn) and I had no idea he was born in Winterset, Iowa.

We arrived at the location and right away I was impressed.  There is a great memorial rock with hand painted pictures on it and one of the locals came up to us and explained what the different sides of the rock meant.  The main character from Monuments Men, George Stout (George Clooney played him) was from Winterset.

John Wayne’s various military characters


Other local service heroes

After admiring the memorial area we walked over to the front of the museum and admired the John Wayne statue and the marble tiles surrounding the grounds.  Each tile was donated by a family and many of them had quotes from the movie.  Very cool. The statue had amazing detail and we took several pictures.

Steve and Lee

The level of detail on the statue was amazing. I liked the spurs but everyone else had a long conversation about why this one bullet was lower.

I liked this quote

After being outside we walked in and paid $15 which included an 11 minute movie (which was pretty good), a small museum, and touring the inside of his house.  I will say we all thought it was a bit overpriced.  The museum was pretty small and since you can see the outside and visit the huge gift shop for free, you might want to go that route if you are on a budget.  As a general rule, any time the gift shop is almost bigger than the museum part that tends to be the case, but if the cost is $6 or less why not.  When you start to get in double digits, we expect a bit more.

Small theater for the movie which I did enjoy

The saddle from The Cowboys

The gun selection was really cool, but these were all commemorative and none were actually used in the movies or anything

This is the type of gun he used to swing around while riding a horse. The extra big circle allowed for this manuever. I thought that was really cool.

His actual car was one of my favorite things because it was so low-key

They did build him a custom roof though for his hat which was AWESOME!

Lee loved loved this jacket which he actually wore. They had them for sale in the gift shop but they were $150…uh nope

He was very popular with his fellow actors and when he was given the congressional gold medal they just said John Wayne American..which again I liked

My favorite piece in the entire museum was this Andy Warhol picture. Not a huge fan of Andy Warhol in general but this was truly a work of art.

Lee really liked the cups. He had coffee mugs made for each movie and gave them to the cast and crew. Class act

Steve and I love ourselves a gift shop..this was a nice one

After the museum we walked outside and down to his childhood home.  It was very small, with no running water and was not originally furnished although the pieces were accurate with the time period.  Walking through was very interesting and when I found out he was a 13 pound baby that was cool.  Yikes!!  That was huge for that time period. So again, I think if you are a huge John Wayne fan go ahead and spring for the ticket, but if not you might want to just check out the outside.

Small bedroom..neat bed though

He lived in Iowa until he was 9 and then they moved to California. Have to wonder if they hadn’t moved would he have become the John Wayne that we all know and love.

Again 13 pounds!!! And no drugs…craziness lol

I liked the trundle bed in the kitchen..I don’t know if I have ever seen one like this before

The rose bushes were very pretty

After we left the museum we explored the town of Winterset a little bit.  It was a nice small town with a thriving downtown, which we always love to see, and I especially loved the courthouse. Then we went looking for a place to eat but it was slim pickings.  We finally went to a place called the Pizza Ranch that had a pizza buffet.  The food was ok and they were short-staffed, but it was priced right at $9.99 per meal. Originally we wanted to eat at a local place where all the food is made from scratch, but we were told that the owner only opened up when she “felt like it.”  Obviously she didn’t feel like it that day because it was closed, but we did see the home of the original Red Delicious apple tree and did some more geocaching.

Winterset, Iowa


Lee and Steve stopped and geocached at this local church

East Peru had the sign but we couldn’t find the tree.

They have some ingenious types of geocaches.  The little red metallic button was one

We all had fun on the old-fashioned carousel. Don’t worry that thing was heavy-duty

I did like the signs in the restaurant

This pizza and fries concept looks neat but not so great in reality

I thought this was a particularly good piece of advice for our lifestyle


After lunch we set out to see a few more bridges and I particularly wanted to see the one in the movie the Bridges of Madison County. It took us awhile to get there though because we kept stopping for geocaches.  Deb and Steve are avid geocachers with over 500 consecutive days of finding at least one cache and over 3,000 total found.  Lee runs hot and cold on it..he’ll be into it for a while and then not do it again for a month.  Obviously we were in a “hot” phase, which was OK with me because they do lead to some cool places, like an old cemetery that had a tree that looked like the tree of life which was neat.

The main problem with geocaching though as I see it is they are often too difficult to find.  Or worse someone has removed it and then you spend 20-30 minutes wandering around not finding what you are looking for.  That’s what happened to us at the cemetery and I finally called it quits.  I think there should be a 10 minute rule and if you can’t find them you have to move on, but I get that its tough for people to give up when looking for “hidden treasure.”  It was hot though and moving towards cranky so we headed out and finally saw a couple of bridges including the one in the movie.

Hogsback Bridge

This combination solar/wind pole was pretty neat. We had some conversation about whether we could have one of these for an RV

My one disappointment with the bridges was that they all looked exactly the same.  In New England the bridges are all very different, but since these were done at roughly the same time, they were very similar.  It started to feel like “you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all” until we reached the Roseman bridge from the movie and stumbled across a really cool gift shop.  That experience was much better and if you can only see one, I absolutely recommend this one and the very nice gift shop.

The gift shop was on the opposite side of where we parked and we thought it was just a house. Thankfully we walked all the way to the other side so we realized what it was.

Lee was tempted by this John Wayne toilet paper but we didn’t know if it was septic safe lol

I was excited to find this beautiful covered bridge bird house for Lee’s mom. They are  buying us the most thoughtful gifts and since she has a huge yard and garden I thought she would like it.

After the bridge it was getting late so we stopped at the store and then went back to the rigs and everyone chilled a bit.  I should mention that the local grocery store was very interesting.  All the employees wore white dress shirts and ties and the butchers even had the little paper white hats.  It felt like we were in the 50’s to be honest and for me at least was a little weird.  Steve loved the butcher shop though and bought some more pork and bacon, but I stuck with a head of lettuce and some rolls for dinner.   I ended up making some chicken and noodles, salad, and rolls for the group and then we stayed up late talking and enjoying a campfire.

The next day we all got up early because Lee and I had a 470 mile travel day.  We never want a day like that, but it was the only way to eke out an extra day with Steve and Deb so it was worth it to us.  We dumped and then took on fresh water for Mor-Ryde, kissed and hugged, made plans for hopefully seeing them at the reunion rally,  and off we went.

The ride wasn’t too bad through Des Moines and Iowa and even western Illinois was OK, but once we got near Chicago on I-80 the traffic started picking up, the road went to shit, and it was bad. I was getting pretty beat up from the bouncing on the passenger side and Lee was getting stressed.  At one point he turned to me and said, “We just don’t belong in places like this any more,” and I couldn’t have agreed more.  Indiana wasn’t much better and we were both really tired and then close to Mor-Ryde we hit another time change.  That was the third one in a relatively few days and that does take a toll.

Morning sunrise was beautiful in Iowa

Rain threatened but thankfully we just kept missing it

Crossing the mighty Mississippi

I took my turn driving.  Really had to pay attention on these roads

I knew we were close to home when I saw my first Bob Evans sign

Ultimately we made it to Mor-Ryde 6:15pm eastern time and after following signs, figured out where to park.  We were both exhausted and after talking briefly to our “neighbors” to make sure we were in the right place, went inside, ate a sandwich and went to bed.  I’m going to talk more about Mor-Ryde in one comprehensive post so I will end it here, but we loved seeing Deb and Steve and are so happy about our small town Iowa experience.  Seriously, don’t forget about the small towns in your travels, they can be pretty special.

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5 thoughts on “First Time in John Wayne’s Birthplace

  1. Are you in the Elkhart area? We’ve been in the area for a couple of weeks and will leave Sunday. Too bad we couldn’t meet. Good luck with the installation!

  2. A couple of theory’s about the single long bullet. The first one supposedly was told to Wayne by an old cowboy so The Duke could get it right for his movies. The long cartridge is in the middle of the belt so he would know when he was running low on cartridges and start refilling from the other side. The other is that he had two different size cartridges, one for his pistol and one for his rifle and the long cartridge in the middle separated them. (I think)

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