By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
It was the second morning of one of our trips to Iowa in 2008. The first day had been spent photographing barns. My plan for day two was to drive west along Hwy 30 and stop in the city of Belle Plaine for sunrise.
We had stayed in Cedar Rapids overnight, and as we packed the car in the morning, the sky looked ominous. We decided we would try to drive away from the clouds and into better weather, so we went with our plan and headed west. Before we even arrived at Belle Plaine, it was raining.
We pulled into a gas station in Belle Plaine and sat in the parking lot waiting to see if the rain would stop. But it didn’t. So we decided to eat our breakfast in the car while we waited some more. But it still didn’t let up. Next, we killed time in the gas station, going to the restroom and wandering around. Then we went back to the car and waited again. When it looked like it might be letting up just a little, we drove over to the old Preston’s Station on the Lincoln Highway hoping for a chance to take a few pictures. Finally, it let up enough that Joann got out of the car with an umbrella and started to photograph.
The gas station was covered with old signs and there were old tractors sitting on the lawn. Joann worked her way around the building photographing everything she could in the light rain.
When Joann finished with the gas station, it was still raining, but we decided to check out the rest of the town. Main Street is filled with history. There are many old buildings including an old-time pharmacy.
As you can probably guess, when we saw the movie theater, we had to get a picture since we have such fond memories of old theaters.
By now it was raining too hard and there was thunder and lightning, so we drove around town looking at what else there might be to take a picture of. When the rain didn’t let up, we decided to drive a little further west to Tama and Toledo. Again, we hoped that we could drive out of the rain and check out those towns.
At Tama, we found several things we wanted to photograph, but the rain and lightning didn’t allow us to photograph anything. We continued up the road to Toledo. It was still raining, and we couldn’t believe that it just wouldn’t let up. We found more great things we wanted to photograph, so I took out a little notebook and started making a list.
We waited in front of the old Rexall Pharmacy until there was a tiny break in the downpour and then Joann jumped out and took a photo. But as soon as she was out of the car, the lightning began again and she had to jump back into the car.
Then we spent some time waiting in front of the old Hotel Toledo to see if we could get a picture of the great old sign. There had been a car parked in the way, but by the time the rain finally let up, the car had been moved. But the rain on this morning would only give us a minute or two between flashes of lightning.
Finally, we drove east to see if maybe the weather would break and allow us to photograph any more barns on the way home. We did manage to have a pretty good day, but by nightfall as we entered Wisconsin, the rain had caught up to us, and we drove home in the worst rainstorm Wisconsin had had for years. Iowa and Wisconsin both experienced severe flooding that June.
The following summer on our way to the northwest corner of Iowa, I had the bright idea to try and pass through Belle Plaine again to photograph what we had missed. The weather was fine when we left home, and was fairly nice as we began to cross Iowa. But as we neared Belle Plaine, the clouds came in and the rain began.
When we stopped to photograph the depot, it was already sprinkling, and Joann took the umbrella with her. It is a big, beautiful depot that was built in 1894 for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. In spite of the rain, she did manage to get some photos.
On this trip, we also noticed the ornate entryway of an old bank building. Lucky for us, the building has been repurposed rather than torn down. That is one of our favorite things about old towns.
The name “Belle Plaine” is said to mean “Belle of the Prairie” or "Beautiful Plain”. We have yet to see Belle Plaine on a clear and pleasant day, but we are making plans to return. And maybe we can even make it to Tama and Toledo without the rain finding us.