Alvin Straight

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Alvin Boone Straight (October 17, 1920 – November 9, 1996) was an American man who became notable for traveling 240 miles (390 km) on a riding lawn mower from Laurens, Iowa to Blue River, Wisconsin to visit his ailing brother. He inspired the 1999 film The Straight Story.

Early life[edit]

Alvin Straight was born in Scobey, Montana. He married Frances Beek on October 17, 1946, in Scobey.[1] In 1973, Alvin, Frances, and their family moved to Lake View, Iowa, where he worked as a general laborer. He was the father of five sons and two daughters.[2] Straight was a veteran of World War II, serving as private first class in the United States Army and the Korean War.[2]

Lawn mower trip[edit]

In June 1994, Straight's 80-year-old brother Henry Straight (Palisade, January 4, 1914 - Iowa, June 15, 1998) had suffered a stroke.[2] At the age of 73 and in poor health from diabetes, emphysema and other ailments, Straight could not see well enough for a driver's license, so he decided his only option was to travel on his 1966 John Deere riding lawn mower.[2]

Setting off in early July 1994, Straight drove the mower along highway shoulders, towing a trailer loaded with gasoline, camping gear, clothes, and food from his home in Laurens, Iowa, to his brother in Blue River, Wisconsin.[2]

About four days and 21 miles into the trip, the lawn mower broke down in West Bend, Iowa.[3] Straight spent $250 on replacement parts, including a condenser, plugs, a generator, and a starter.[3]

After traveling another 90 miles, Straight ran out of money while in Charles City, Iowa.[3] He camped there for a few days until his next Social Security checks arrived in August.[3] He was interviewed by local newspapers.[4] On August 15, Straight's lawn mower broke down again when he was two miles from his brother's house near Blue River.[3] A farmer stopped and helped him push it the rest of the way.[3] At a top speed of 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h), the trip took six weeks in all.[2] After the visit, Straight's nephew and Henry Straight's son, Dayne Straight, drove him back to Iowa in his pickup truck.[5]

Henry Straight recovered from his stroke and moved back to Iowa to be closer to Alvin Straight and the rest of his family.[6]

Paul Condit, president and general manager of Texas Equipment Company, Inc., in Seminole, Texas, heard about the trip and gave Straight a 17-horsepower John Deere replacement riding mower worth $5,000.[5] Straight did not like the media attention from the lawn mower trip. He turned down offers to appear on various TV talk shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman.[2]

Later years and death[edit]

In April 1995, Straight attempted to drive a riding lawn mower to Sun Valley, Idaho, but he had to turn back because of cold weather.[7] On November 9, 1996, Alvin Straight died of a heart ailment at a local hospital in Pocahontas, Iowa at age 76.[2] A lawn mower similar to the one he had used on his journey accompanied his funeral procession to the Ida Grove Cemetery.[2] He is buried in Ida Grove (Iowa).

Adaptations[edit]

Playwright and performer Dan Hurlin and composer and sound designer Dan Moses Schreier adapted Straight's trip into a theatrical production that was billed as an opera.[8] "The Shoulder" was performed at CSPS Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, in October 1997.[8] It was also performed in January 1998 at New York's Dance Theater Workshop and Minneapolis' Walker Art Center.[8]

Straight's story was adapted into the film The Straight Story, directed by David Lynch, which starred Richard Farnsworth (in an Oscar-nominated role) as Alvin Straight.[9] When plans for the film began in 1995, Straight signed a contract that ensured he would receive $10,000 plus 10% of the movie's profits, although he died before the film's completion. He said he didn't make the trip to see his brother for the possibility of fame or money.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Alvin Straight". Find A Grave. May 18, 2000.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Longden, Tom. "Alvin Straight". The Des Moines Register. October 7, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Who Needs a License? Man Hits Road on Mower". Associated Press. The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas). August 24, 1994. p. 8A.
  4. ^ "Lawnmower Traveler Shuns Talk Shows". The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin). September 3, 1994. p. 8A.
  5. ^ a b "Truck, Not Mower, Takes Man Home". The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin). September 22, 1994. p. 10A
  6. ^ "Man Who Made Solo Lawn Mower Journey Dies At 76". Associated Press. The Free Library by Farlex. November 14, 1996. Accessed on October 7, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Neubauer, Mary. "Lawn Mower Traveler, 74, Signs Hollywood Contract". Associated Press. St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minnesota). June 7, 1995. p. 1B.
  8. ^ a b c Lindwall, Rebecca. "Iowan's journey by tractor inspires offbeat opera". The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). October 12, 1997.
  9. ^ Bunbury, Stephanie. Top 10 films about ageing". The Sydney Morning Herald. December 19, 2015.

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