Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Visiting Vigo County, Indiana, on the National Road and US 40

On my bicycle ride across Indiana, I had pedaled through Wayne, Henry, Hancock, Marion, Hendricks, Putnam, and Clay Counties when I reached the last county of the trip, Vigo. This county borders Illinois and was the end of my trip.

It began to rain steadily as I rode off State Road 340 back onto US 40, and thus into Vigo County. My front handbrake was useless, and my handlebars were too slippery to hold. My rear coaster brake still stopped the bike, albeit slowly; it made riding not completely unsafe. I knew I would not make it to the Illinois line this day. My friend Michael lives near downtown Terre Haute, so I made his home my final destination.

Before I reached Terre Haute I passed through tiny Seelyville. There you’ll find Kleptz’s Restaurant, which has been operating since before I went to college just down the road from here at Rose-Hulman in the late 1980s.

Kleptz' Restaurant, Seelyville, IN

As you can see, Kleptz’s is a big old house. Some friends of mine stopped in for a drink back in the late 80s and they described sitting in Kleptz’s as like sitting in someone’s living room.

I’m a big fan of old neon signs. There used to be a good one on this building, but it’s been gone since 2009. When I photographed it that August, I didn’t know it was doomed.

Kleptz Bar

I don’t normally photograph modern gas stations on my trips, but I did this time.

Casey's, Seelyville, IN

It’s because I remember the building that used to stand on this corner. Here it is from that August, 2009, road trip.

Downtown Seelyville

I photographed this building in the unincorporated town of East Glen because in 1989, freshly graduated from college and looking for an apartment, I considered renting one of the upstairs apartments here. The downstairs was a hair salon even then. (I’m happy I found the apartment I did; read that story here.)

Salon, East Glenn, IN

I’ve photographed this Clabber Girl billboard a number of times over the years. Clabber Girl Baking Powder is one of Terre Haute’s claims to fame. This billboard has been greeting people as they approached town for probably 80 years. Every so often, it receives a restoration.

Clabber Girl billboard

Just beyond the billboard lies Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the number one undergraduate engineering school in the nation (according to U.S. News and World Report). This is my alma mater.

Entrance to Rose-Hulman, US 40 Terre Haute

Here’s where US 40 meets State Road 46 on the west edge of Rose-Hulman’s campus. Several years ago, US 40 was rerouted to follow SR 46 down to I-70, and then to follow I-70 into Illinois. The National Road, however, continues straight ahead.

US 40 at SR 46

In Terre Haute, I stopped in the rain to have a hot-fudge sundae at this Dairy Queen. It’s on the National Road on the east side of town. A handful of Terre Haute DQ’s had neon signs like this one. They were custom made; you’ll find them only in Terre Haute. This and one other location in town still have them.

DQ, Wabash Ave., Terre Haute

From here, I rode straight to my friend’s house. I really wanted to document the National Road in Terre Haute, especially where it originally passed by the Vigo County Courthouse. That will have to wait for a future dry day.

Margaret drove to Terre Haute to pick me up. My friend, his wife, Margaret, and I all went out for dinner and drinks before Margaret and I headed home. Back in my day, my favorite Terre Haute bar was Sonka’s, on the National Road near downtown. It’s still going!

Sonka's

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Road Trips

RoadsideĀ relics along US 40 and the National Road around Terre Haute, Indiana

My trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana finally brought me to Vigo County, where I lived for nine years. Sadly, those were years before my full roadgeek had been awakened, and I was blind to much of what the road offered there.

Of course, since then my eyes have opened. I’ve made a number of road trips, taken thousands of photos, and written quite a bit about it all here in my little corner of the Web. And then last month a reporter at the Terre Haute Tribune-Star found some of my writing as he was researching a story about US 40 and the National Road. He interviewed me for his story, and I was thrilled to have been quoted extensively in his article.

Plenty of 20th-century roadside relics remain along the road in Vigo County. It begins in tiny Seelyville with Kleptz’s Restaurant and its great neon sign.

Kleptz Bar

This derelict motel, the former Ritz Plaza Motor Lodge, stands on the outskirts of Terre Haute. This has been a dump for at least 20 years, stretching back to when I was a student at nearby Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the late 1980s. It was operating as efficiency apartments for students then; I think the sign (far right) was still intact. The building looks abandoned today. (Thanks to Autostitch for making this panorama. Click it to see it larger on Flickr.)

Former Ritz Plaza Motel

This billboard is on the opposite corner from the motel. The first time I ever saw it was in 1984, when my parents brought me to visit Rose-Hulman for the first time. The clock was stopped that day, but I’ve always seen it keeping accurate time since.

Clabber Girl

On the western edge of the Rose-Hulman campus stands this 1931 gas station building. Its original location was on US 40 in town. I have a dim memory of once noticing a tiny little house and wondering who could possibly live in it; I think it was this gas station. It hadn’t operated in some time and the pumps were gone. What I didn’t know then was that early gas stations were deliberately built to look like little houses because travelers of the day were more comfortable stopping at a place that looked homey. This little building was in danger of being demolished a few years ago when the Indiana National Road Association partnered with Rose-Hulman to move it here and restore it.

1931 gas station building

This motel is within spitting distance of Rose-Hulman and was a common place for parents to stay when they visited; maybe it still is. I’ve never been inside, but here’s a postcard view of a room from days gone by.

Chateau Woodridge

During my Terre Haute days, my bike rides frequently amounted to Dairy Queen runs. I didn’t intend them to be that way, but there are so many DQs in Terre Haute that most of my routes passed by one. I’d inevitably ride home sucking down a chocolate malt, undermining the ride’s health benefits. I’ve never seen a Dairy Queen sign of this type except in Terre Haute. I think the DQ on North 13th St looks like this too; if you’re reading this and you’re a Hautean, please leave a comment telling me whether my memory is correct!

DQ

Carney’s Tire is a former Phillips 66 station. The pumps are long gone, but they kept the sign.

Carney's Tire

This neon wasn’t broken the last time I drove through here, but I can’t remember what it used to spell out. The top word is certainly Tavern.

Terre Haute

Downtown Terre Haute is a lot more alive today than it was 15 years ago when I moved away. That’s not to say that it’s become a hotspot, but there are more bars and restaurants here now than then. I don’t think this building was anything when I lived here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember it. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t yet learned to see in those days. At any rate, it was doing good business on this late Saturday afternoon.

The Copper Bar

What caught my eye about this building was all the advertising painted on its side.

Painted ads

Soon I came upon this landmark sign in downtown Terre Haute. Everybody knows the Saratoga.

The Saratoga

I’d only been to the Saratoga once while I lived here, and that was for a company holiday party. I was in my 20s then, and the Saratoga’s regular crowd was a bit older. But now I’m a bit older. The day I came through here was a couple days before my birthday, so I stopped in and treated myself to a nice dinner. I fit right in, and the prime rib was really good!

Terre Haute

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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