Alvin Boone Straight (October 17, 1920 – November 9, 1996) was an American man who became notable for traveling 240 miles 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.
Alvin Straight was born in Scobey, Montana. He married Frances Beek on October 17, 1946, in Scobey. 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. Straight was a veteran of World War II, serving as private first class in the United States Army and the Korean War.
Lawn mower trip
Alvin Straight's 80-year-old brother Henry had recently suffered a stroke. 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.
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.
After traveling another 90 miles, Straight ran out of money while in Charles City, Iowa. He camped there until his next Social Security checks arrived in August. He was interviewed by local newspapers. On August 15, Straight's lawn mower broke down again when he was two miles from his brother's house near Blue River. A farmer stopped and helped him push it the rest of the way. At a top speed of 5 miles per hour, the trip took six weeks in all. After the visit, Straight's nephew, Dayne Straight, drove him back to Iowa in his pickup truck.
Henry Straight recovered from his stroke and moved back to Iowa to be closer to his family.
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. 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.
Later years and death
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. On November 9, 1996, Straight died of a heart ailment at a local hospital in Laurens. A lawn mower similar to the one he had used on his journey accompanied his funeral procession to the Ida Grove Cemetery.
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. "The Shoulder" was performed at CSPS Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, in October 1997. It was also performed in January 1998 at New York's Dance Theater Workshop and Minneapolis' Walker Art Center.
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. 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.
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