116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
During the pandemic, we shunned distant travel as we shifted to day visits close to home.
Winter trips included museum stops in Cedar Falls/Waterloo and Dubuque. To celebrate Iowa’s upcoming Museum Week (June 7-13), we ventured to a few of the many Quad Cities area museums.
The museums we visited in May taught us old technologies and concepts, once relegated to history, sometimes reemerge to shape lives today.
These include immigration attitudes, electric vehicles, fashion and even vinyl records. These are some of the stories the Quad Cities area museums tell. At least 30 museums are tucked in the four communities and two states that constitute the “quad.” They’re bisected by the vast continental artery we call the Mississippi River.
Iowa 80 Trucking Museum
On our way to Davenport, we stopped at the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum in Walcott.
Today electric cars are becoming ever more common on the world’s roads. This museum taught us they were used in the dawn of the motor vehicle age.
Early electric trucks needed huge batteries that took hours to charge and lasted only about 50 miles. Emerging liquid-fueled trucks and cars were more efficient and quickly pushed nascent electrics to obsolescence.
Those early gas burners came with a problem. They needed hand cranking to get them working.
“Sometimes the crank would kick back and break an arm,” said Curator Dave Meiers.
Meiers and Marketing Director Heather DeBaillie brought the personalities of dozens of beautifully restored “eye candy” trucks to life as we strolled down long aisles. Their evolution from rickety, underpowered ones with solid rubber tires to modern muscled ones emerged as we walked past rows of Internationals, Studebakers, Macks and long gone truck brands.
The nonprofit museum sits behind the World’s Largest Truck Stop along Interstate 80. Admission is free. To enhance the delight of a fascinating and educational visit, check out their website and social media.
Our visit helped us appreciate the truck industry’s rich, vital history and learn tidbits like what wooden knobs on farm trucks do, the meaning of “deadheading” and how the Mack truck got its name.
German American Heritage Center & Museum
The pandemic inspired many people to dive into genealogy and appreciate the hardships their ancestors, like most immigrants, faced coming to America and adjusting to a new life in a land that offered hope and opportunity.
Waves of immigrants, then and now, stirred fear and resentment among settled Americans. An exhibit at The German American Heritage Center and Museum (GAHC) revealed that during World War I, Iowa was the only state that banned speaking the German language. However, with their amazing work ethic these new Iowans added richness to our culture, language, foods and economy.
Today Iowa residents with German heritage are more than 35 percent of our population. The museum encourages visitors of all backgrounds to electronically share their past and modern family histories of immigration.
A side note on the exhibits is an intriguing new fashion movement incorporating traditional garb. Assistant Director Erika Holshoe shared, “Modern German ethnic dress reconciles the history of Germany. German ’Tracht’ (ethnic dress, like dirndls and lederhosen) was used as propaganda during the Nazi regime to promote their version of the German ethnic identity. In contemporary Germany, ’Tracht'’ is being reclaimed by creating modern twists on a historic design. German ethnic dress is currently at an intersection of nostalgia, identity, and modernity.”
The Figge Art Museum
A few blocks from the GAHC is the Figge Museum. A must stop.
Terry Pitts, Director Emeritus of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art shared, "I always recommend a visit to the Figge Art Museum. It mounts great temporary exhibitions and its permanent collections — especially its Regionalist art and its Haitian art — are a great complement to those that we have here in Cedar Rapids."
Coming soon is “Pop Power From Warhol to Koons.'' Their online daily prompts encourage people to notice what is around them, snap a picture and post on Figge social media. Over lunch in their cafe, we watched pelicans and eagles cruising the Mississippi River, then crossed the street and traded fine art for music.
Entering the relatively new Bix Beiderbecke Museum and World Archive of jazz music is like stepping into an “ear candy” era.
A bold and seductive medley of jazz swirled around as we absorbed the history and culture of an exuberant time of American music.
Although it has been 90 years since this precocious jazz cornetist’s death at age 28, he’s remembered and celebrated annually with the Bix Beiderbecke Festival. Nathaniel Kraft, Museum Director, said “Bix was an influential musician of the time. He turned his passion into something people remember. He continues to inspire people.”
More to see
We only had time on a one-day trip to visit the Truck, German, Figge and Bix Museums. By late afternoon, museums were closing for the day. We drove by the International Fire and Family Museums. On a previous trip we had toured the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, now closed because of COVID-19, but hopefully reopening soon.
The Quad Cities has many more museums. They’ll lure us back on day trips and overnights. The Quad Cities are just 88 miles from Cedar Rapids. A wide array of eateries and places to stay add zest to a visit.
A walk along the Mississippi offers exercise, fresh air and good odds of spotting bald eagles winging over its broad expanse. Up river are the Cody Homestead, the Buffalo Bill Museum and the American Pickers shop.
For active families, bicycle trails and parks abound.
Rich and Marion Patterson have backgrounds in environmental science and forestry. They co-own Winding Pathways, a consulting business that encourages people to “Create Wondrous Yards.”