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]

Alvin Straight's 80-year-old brother Henry had recently suffered a stroke.[2] At the age of 73, Alvin 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 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, 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 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 riding mower worth $5,000.[5] Straight did not like the attention from the lawn mower trip. He turned down offers to appear on 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, Straight died of a heart ailment at a local hospital in Laurens.[2] A lawn mower similar to the one he had used on his journey accompanied his funeral procession to the Ida Grove Cemetery.[2]


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 that he made the trip to see his brother, not for the possibility of fame or money.[7]


  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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