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Cruisin' the Lincoln Highway

European guests stop in Franklin Grove with classic cars

FRANKLIN GROVE – Scott Spangler said the Lincoln Highway Association headquarters has brought some unusual things to his hometown.

A yellow 1959 Messerschmitt rolling down Elm Street on Wednesday certainly qualifies.

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the small German-made two-seater that resembles a Twinkie on three wheels, known quite commonly as a "bubble car."

The classic car was just one in a line that included a red 1954 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, a black 1958 Buick Limited convertible, and a 1962 German Goggomobil.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, about 300 European tourists from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany are driving the entire highway in 88 cars from New York to San Francisco.

One rule: the car has to be a classic before 1979.

Many in the convoy stopped between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday to visit Franklin Grove's Lincoln Highway headquarters.

The unique cars drew a handful of locals to welcome the visitors, and many more driving by slowed down to wave.

"We're enjoying this," said Spangler, a classic car fan. "So many people from all around the world are coming to stop in Franklin Grove."

The convoy left Chicago en route to Cedar Rapids, Iowa by day's end.

The goal is to reach San Francisco on July 26.

The European tourists said their tour, which came at a cost of about $15,000 per person, has been received with plenty of excitement.

Erik Gjermundsen, of Fredrikstad, Norway, calls his Messerschmitt the smile machine, because of the reaction the small car gets wherever it goes.

"Always smiles," he said of the one-cylinder car that he rides at about 50 mph.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Gjermundsen said.

Messerschmitt was a famous German aircraft manufacturer during World War II and the vehicle was made there.

Fellow tourist Uwe Staufenberg, of Dingolfing, Germany, drove up to the highway headquarters in just as unique of a vehicle.

His Goggomobil has no doors and resembles a small postal truck, except it tops out at 40 mph and depends on the wind as an air conditioner.

Staufenberg parked on the sidewalk in front of a painted wall at the headquarters to get a photograph. He said the vehicle was an affordable option for families post World War II.

"I enjoy driving sideways," said Staufenberg, who drove Route 66 three years ago. "When I heard about the opportunity, I decided to be part of that group."

"I've seen so many things. The people and the countryside are highlights. People offering you drinks and sharing their local history."

Staufenberg said he is a fan of the Blues Brothers movie and stopped at the Joliet prison before reaching Franklin Grove.

Lars Andersen, of Toftlund, Denmark, like many of the visitors, said this was his first time in the Illinois countryside. He and his wife rode in a 1968 Pontiac Bonneville.

Andersen has been to the United States four times, but mostly along the East and West coasts. He described the Midwest as scenic.

"We were looking in a magazine and we saw a commercial for the trip," said Andersen, who wore a ballcap endorsing a Danish wind turbine company. "Twenty-four hours later, we decided to go."

Biorn Lans, owner of the red Cadillac convertible, said a number of the drivers voyage in small groups to not disrupt highway traffic too much at once.

Very few of the European visitors left the headquarters' gift shop empty-handed. They wanted to grab souvenirs to take home.

Lynn Asp, who operates the headquarters, shared stories and local history, including how the building was a meeting place for town gossip.

Earlier this summer, Spangler said a group of 33 deaf motorcyclists made their way through town touring the highway, as well as others from the Lincoln Zephyr club.

The town was decorated with American flags hanging from telephone poles to welcome visitors.

"It's been a draw, especially with the centennial," Spangler said. "It's great for tourism. We see a lot of unusual things come through here, and they are all different. [Wednesday] has been fun."

To visit

The Lincoln Highway Association Headquarters is located at 136 N. Elm St., Franklin Grove. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Visit or call 815-456-3030 for more information.

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