FRAZEE, MINN. -- Daggett Truck Line
Here, in 26 easy steps, is how to find out where John Steinbeck slept on the night of Oct. 11, 1960:
1-- Drive from St. Paul to Sauk Centre to Detroit Lakes.
2 -- Get at least 6.5 hours of sleep in a Walmart parking lot.
3 -- Get up early and go to the nearest McDonald's for coffee.
4 -- Sit in a booth next to the oldest guys in the restaurant (you can find four or six of them drinking coffee and shooting the breeze every morning in every McDonald's in America).
5 -- Wait patiently until there's a lull in their conversation about the nearest pro football team (in this example, the Vikings).
6 -- Introduce yourself, tell them you are a traveling journalist (wave your Professional Reporter's Notebook to prove it) and explain that you are chasing the ghost of John Steinbeck, who came by here exactly 50 years ago.
7 -- Explain who John Steinbeck is.
8 -- Tell them you're looking for a truck stop on US 10 near Detroit Lakes that handled cattle trucks and was near a turkey farm.
10 -- Thank the senior citizens for their time and help.
11 -- Drive eight miles back the way you came the night before to Frazee, pop. 1,377, which is just off new US 10 and was once sliced in half by old US 10.
12 -- Take pictures by the Frazee exit of one of the dozens of turkey barns there and wonder how many turkeys can be packed in a building that looks half-a-mile long.
13 -- Drive around the town's major detour, cruise the modest-to-shabby main drag, stop on a side street and ask a guy building something in his garage where Daggett trucking is.
14 -- Follow his directions to just north of downtown Frazee on old US 10, where Daggett Truck Line has been since the 1930s and where its office and cattle-truck operations were in 1960.
15 -- Stick your head in the secretary's office and ask if there's a Daggett you can talk to.
16 -- Meet Chris Daggett, the fourth generation of his family to run the medium-sized company that now has about 95 refrigerated trucks and no longer hauls cattle, which it did exclusively in 1960 when Chris' grandfather Vern was running things.
17 -- Read Chris the part in "Travels With Charley" where Steinbeck describes his night at a truck stop; then read Chris part of the letter Steinbeck wrote to his wife on Oct. 11, 1960, where he talks about cattle trucks, piles of manure and a small valley filled with thousands of turkeys.
18 -- Explain that Steinbeck's letter is credible but that what he writes so beautifully in "Charley" is a fictionalized composite of his overnight stays at a truck stop in Mauston, Wis., and one "not far from Detroit Lakes."
19 -- Write down in your Professional Reporter's Notebook exactly what Chris Daggett says: "This was the place he's talking about. Absolutely, it was."
20 -- Take pictures of the great old pictures and the 1960 magazine article hanging in the hall that tell the 80-plus year history of Daggett Truck Line.
21 -- Take pictures of Daggett's building, whose siding now hides the brick Steinbeck would have seen.
22 -- Take pictures of the cow head -- cattle head? -- over the front door.
23 -- Forget to take Chris Daggett's' picture standing by his front door with the cow's head above him.
24 -- Thank Chris and tell him if he sees you again it'll be because you've got a book deal.
25 -- Say goodbye.
26 -- Drive 100 yards west on old US 10 and take pictures of the turkey barns that sit next to Daggett's big parking lot.
Write this account of your adventure in drive-by journalism.
Drive 100 miles west on US 10 to the next stop on the Steinbeck Highway -- Alice, N.D. That's where the ghost you are following said he stopped to camp by the Maple River on the morning of Oct. 12, 1960.