“This is the best rest area I stop in, and I stop in a lot of them,” the Arizona truck driver said as he ate a snack at a picnic table at the Salt Kettle Rest Area on Interstate 74 west of Danville. He was a long-haul driver and he appreciated the park-like setting. He had just returned to the rest area after visiting the nearby Pioneer Cemetery. I was there checking the trail to the cemetery and had walked back with him.
It was a pleasant late summer day and the rest area was busy. Children were at the playground, people were walking dogs, and there was a man fishing in the small pond. The resident geese were strolling near the sign that warned people not to feed them.
The trucker told me there would be a time, not too distant, when truck drivers would go the way of the dinosaurs. “We will be extinct,” he said, “replaced by a computer that doesn’t tire and doesn’t stop at places like this.”
He observed the computer would also not be filling in a log book detailing what it did every minute it was on the road. When I told him I was gathering information for a newspaper column, he didn’t want his name used. “They already think I am opinionated,” he declared.
I left him without discovering who ‘they’ were, but he was a man of strong opinions on a variety of subjects. He was also a veteran of the 18-wheeler and a delight to visit with.
Patty Marana appreciated the truck driver’s complement on the rest area when I relayed it to her. Patty is supervisor of the rest areas in District Five and it is obvious she and the other employees take pride in their work. She told me the Salt Kettle Rest Area is the first place many people stop when they enter Illinois and she wants them to find a place that is well-maintained and pleasing to the eye.
Her mission is to make their first impression of the Land of Lincoln a favorable one. The immaculate facilities, manicured grounds, and well placed flowers reflect she has accomplished her goal.
Several years ago the Vermilion County Museum Society renovated the small Pioneer Cemetery near the rest area. Museum volunteers cleared a trail through the woods leading to the cemetery and the State of Illinois established a trail from the parking area to the woods. It is a short walk to the cemetery and numerous people visit it.
Edward M. Wilson is among those resting in the tiny cemetery. He was born in Ireland in 1785 and came to America in 1802. Before making his way to Vermilion County in 1832, he fought in the War of 1812. He was paid $8 a month for his service as a member of the 5th Maryland Infantry. He was at the battle where Francis Scott Key composed the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
When he died his heirs were represented in court in Danville by Abraham Lincoln. That fact makes the Pioneer Cemetery a Lincoln attraction.
Each Memorial Day, a new American flag is placed in front of Wilson’s grave to honor the veteran. When I visited the cemetery I noticed the flag had been moved from the ground to the top of his grave marker. The small staff that held the flag had shattered and a thoughtful person had draped it over Edward’s marker. It was held in place by a few small stones.
The land where the rest area is located, and all that around it, was once owned by Edward Wilson. The fledgling United States obtained the land from Great Britain in 1783 at the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. That was two years before Wilson was born in Ireland. He crossed the ocean in a sailing ship and came to Vermilion County by horse and wagon. Now a steady stream of cars and trucks flow by a short distance from his grave.
Among the truckers is a long-haul driver from Arizona whom some folks label opinionated. He would have been titled an “original” by the old-timers who had a little respect for people with strong opinions.
History teaches a lot of things do go the way of the dinosaurs.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.