Jul 262010

Since the folks at the Winnebago Service Center don’t work on weekends, we spent the last two days just goofing off, waiting for work to resume on our motorhome today.

Saturday we caught up on some paperwork, visited with our neighbors here at Camp Winnebago, and then went out to dinner with a few folks, at a fantastic restaurant in the tiny town of Thompson, Iowa called the Branding Iron. I had one of the best rib eye steaks I’ve ever eaten there, and Miss Terry had grilled salmon that she absolutely loved. I’m not much of a salmon fan, but I took one bite of hers and resolved to order it if we went back again.

Sunday we went exploring in Clear Lake with our pals Ron and Brenda Speidel. Old time rock and roll fans will know Clear Lake because it was here, on February 3, 1959, that musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) were killed when their chartered Beech Bonanza crashed into a corn field shortly after takeoff, during a winter storm. In addition to the three popular performers, pilot Roger Peterson was also killed in the crash. The tragedy became known as The Day The Music Died.

Ron and Brenda had been to the crash site a couple of years ago, but there was some confusion as to the exact route to get there, and we made a couple of false starts before we finally stopped to ask a lady working in her yard for directions. (Or, as Ron says, “clarification” of what he already knew). She laughed, pointed us in the right direction, and joked with us about men never wanting to ask directions. “If Moses had been a woman, the Israelites wouldn’t have spent 40 years wandering lost in the desert,” she declared.

Finally at the crash site, we parked the car and took a photo of these giant Buddy Holly glasses, and then walked about a 1/2 mile down a dirt path into a cornfield.


A simple stainless steel monument, shaped like a guitar, and topped off with three records, stands where the airplane plunged into the earth. The monument looks like it is surrounded by what at first looks like a pile of trash, but upon closer inspection turns out to be small tributes and gifts left by fans. Everything from photographs and notes, to trinkets, and even a cassette tape of a Buddy Holly concert.

Buddy Holly memorial 2


Next to the monument is a separate memorial to the 21 year old pilot of the airplane, Roger Peterson.

Roger Peterson memorial

Back in Clear Lake, we stopped by the Surf Ballroom, where the musicians played their last concert, the night before they died. The venue still draws big name performers. The marquee said that Ted Nugent had played there just two days ago.   

Surf Ballroom

As we were leaving town, we checked out this neat pyramid shaped house, which has won awards and has been featured in architectural magazines.

Pyramid House Clear Lake Iowa

Back in Forest City, we dumped our holding tanks and filled up on fresh water, and then went out for a quick dinner at A&W Root Beer. You know the humidity is high in the Midwest when restaurants have signs like this on their doors!

Humidity sign

Today we had to be up at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m., because they were scheduled to  take our motorhome back into the shop at 6 a.m. to get going on the rest of the work we have scheduled.

I have no idea why these people don’t work on a more reasonable schedule, starting at maybe 8 a.m., which is still way too early for me, but at least it would be daylight outside. I told Ron not to be surprised if I showed up on his doorstep looking for a place to curl up and snooze during the day!

Thought For The Day – If you can’t change your mind, are you sure you still have one?

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Nick Russell

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  10 Responses to “The Day The Music Died”

  1. Great post. I didn’t realize the tragic airplane accident took place near there…

  2. If you have time before you leave, try Butchers restaurant in “downtown” Clear lake. They also have excellent steaks.

    Travel safe!

  3. I hate to tell you this,but 5am is not early in Iowa!! most have done a few chores by
    4or 5am !!!!!!! AN old Iowa farm boy Ken

  4. Stick with the Spiedels and you can have a unique dining venue (with a supportative story behind it) each night of the week. Let’s see…. if it’s Monday it must be Dollar Night at Mitchell’s in Leland with $1 burgers (lettuce and other toppings are extra). Also, across the street from the Service Center is the Lodge. If you like saucy, meaty ribs, they have baby backs — $9 something for 1/2-rack, $11 for full rack — enough to take home for a second meal. Enjoy… and good luck on your service call.

  5. We have been to clear lake several times during the GNR we knew about the ballroom and had dinner there once. We never realized the history of the place. We will definitely go see the monuments to the stars that died there. The Branding Iron also has a great Prime Rib on Monday night, if you go, go early as the place gets quite crowded on this night. Hope the repairs get finished. It is terrible that they start work before dawn. Be safe

  6. If you go to the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa, you can learn the difference between a hobo, a tramp, and a bum. But check first, they were getting ready for a move when we were there.

    And in Algona, Iowa, you can visit the Camp Algona POW Museum. They housed up to 10,000 German prisoners of war 1944-1946. We didn’t get there, but their website is amazing!

  7. After delivering a new RV up in Canada a couple of years ago, I was swinging back down through Iowa and just happened to stop for the night at the Super 8 Motel in Clear Lake. I noticed the pictures on the wall behind the desk at check in of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper). I asked the clerk if somebody there was a big fan of 50s Rock & Roll. She promptly informed me of the significance of the area, and told me that I could see the site for myself, and handed me a map of how to get to that sacred cornfield.

    I couldn’t pass that up, so the next morning I drove out to the area, walked the quarter mile along the muddy path next to the currently planted soybeans, and found myself standing next to the modest memorial commemorating “The Day the Music Died”. It was quite a moving experience for me.

  8. I have to go there some day. I’m from Lubbock, Texas, where Buddy was born, and have always been a big fan. Loved this post and all the comments.

  9. I wonder why the memorial didn’t have Richie Valens song La Bamba on one of the records?

  10. Nick don’t miss some good eats while there in Iowa , Grab a tenderloin and a Maid-rite
    sandwitch . Taylors in marshalltown for Maid-rite or the sandwitch shop in Grinnell for the real thing without the name, Tenderloins are everywhere ,some better than others,
    but be hungery when you go for them! ken

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