This week's spotlight has a special place in our hearts. Located just outside Dodgeville, Wi, the Don Q Inn is, and always has been a very quirky hotel. In 1988 when Dale and I got married, we actually spent our wedding night in an old church steeple that sits adjacent to the hotel and features a 300 gallon copper cheese vat as a bathtub and three stories of rooms with views. Today we are highlighting another strange display at the Don Q Inn which just happens to be one of the stops on the Driftless Challenge: one of the last existing Boeing C-97G Stratofreighters.
"Just a stone's throw down U.S. Highway 23 an airplane is parked by the side of the road.
It's hard to miss.
The vintage Boeing C-97G Stratofreighter casts its massive shadow across the front lawn of Dodgeville's Don Q Inn, a local motel-restaurant complex. With its 141-foot wingspan and quartet of 3,500-horsepower engines, the big metal bird has made itself the object of considerable speculation.
"They landed it right there on the highway," someone will tell you. "There was only enough fuel for one pass," another insists. Some even claim that when the plane rolled to a stop, Farrah Fawcett (remember her?) stepped out and waved to the crowd. There's evidence: the flourish of her autograph still graces the airplane's silver skin.
Those aren't precisely the facts in the case. But, as it turns out, this is one of those instances where truth outshines legend.
Ron Dentinger runs our local Chamber of Commerce. He was, in years past, a close friend of Don Quinn, the man responsible for bringing a Boeing to Dodgeville. Don was a corporate pilot who, when he wasn't circling the globe on business, brought the company plane home to Dodgeville, touching down on a 2,800-foot unpaved landing strip in his backyard. "He parked a DC-9 outside his house the way you'd park your company car in the driveway," Ron Dentinger laughs.
In 1968, Don opened a restaurant on his property. Merging equal parts frugality and promotional savvy, Don cobbled up a veritable dime museum of repurposed architecture. "Everywhere you looked there was a story," says Ron. Floorboards from a Douglas Aircraft factory. Floorboards from a railroad boxcar. The brass doors off the First Wisconsin Bank. Of course, Don wouldn't describe his doors so prosaically; instead, he'd intone, "Behind these doors, the plan for the MasterCard was conceived."
Sometime in the 1970s, Don decided an airplane out front was the thing he really needed. And not a small airplane.
The plane Don fixed upon had once starred in a Lincoln Mercury car commercial. Co-starred, we should say. The big Boeing shared the screen with Farrah Fawcett, then riding the crest of her "Charlie's Angels" celebrity. (The autograph - remember?)
In the fall of 1978, a trio of Air Guardsmen guided the aircraft out Dodgeville way. Dick Schmidt was the pilot, Tom Thomas occupied the copilot's chair. The flight engineer was a gentleman named Harold Waligorski. Afterward, it amused Don to report that his plane made the journey with Tom, Dick and Harry at the controls.
The highway was closed down for the landing - which was nearly as perilous as legend recalls. The landing gear were three feet wider than the runway. One wingtip passed within 20 feet of the hangar. But the sheer audacity of the stunt garnered coverage in newspapers as far-flung as The Miami Herald and The San Francisco Examiner.
Locally, the plane soon established itself as a landmark. Don delighted in claiming there were black marks on the highway from people slamming on their brakes to get a better look.
Some even slowed down long enough to dine at The Don Q.
Don Quinn died in 1988. His restaurant has passed into other hands. And the stories are largely forgotten.
But one man remembers.
Ron Dentinger: "You wouldn't want a world full of people like Don... but thank God there was one of him.""
----Land's End Newsletter, September 24th, 2004
So, stop by and see all of the strange and wonderful things at the Don Q Inn and make sure to get your picture with the plane to enter the Driftless Challenge!
Ride safe and be well,
Dale and Renee