Notes from an old reporter’s notepad

Some RAGBRAI stopped in Walcott while others rode through on their way to Davenport, the final destination. Phil Roberts photo.

Some RAGBRAI riders stopped in Walcott while others rode through on their way to Davenport, the final destination. Phil Roberts photo.

Some of the numbers are in from that Saturday in July when RAGBRAI riders came through Walcott, with many of them stopping.
The 2015 Walcott RAGBRAI co-chairs, Larry Koberg, Joe Quick, Kelly Quick and Kris Burt, can’t yet say how many people were served, but water and Gatorade were big sellers on a hot, humid day.
Volunteer workers in Walcott sold out of more than 72 cases of Gatorade, 400 cans of pop and 120 cases of water.
Awhile back I complained that many restaurants no longer put spoons on the table for their customers, which I think is a huge disservice for those of us who rely on them for eating items like corn, peas and cottage cheese or for stirring coffee or iced tea. They only provide forks and knives.
Despite some research I could not come up with a good reason for eateries eliminating spoons.
But a friend who is a former restaurateur says spoons are commonly stolen from restaurants.
Say what?
“I will tell you from a former restaurant owner’s perspective,” he said, “spoons are one of the most lost or stolen pieces of flatware in the business. I was ordering cases of spoons to replace those missing from formal place settings.
“If you were to ask any restaurant supply, they would confirm this fact. We never tell guests the reason why (we don’t provide spoons), because it’s not a pleasant or positive response to our guest.”
A server at a local restaurant, when pressed, admitted to me that’s why his employer no longer has spoons available.
So I think when I dine out, I’ll ask for a spoon when one is not on the table. If I’m turned down, I will make a big deal of pulling from my pocket my own plastic spoon and eating with that.
In a previous column, I noted that Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., famed NASCAR driver-turned-commentator, well known for his storytelling ability, was suffering from terminal cancer. He has died at age 74.
Thanks to pleasant weather conditions and, of course, the efforts of hundreds of people, the great Mississippi Valley Fair was particularly enjoyable this year.
The regional fair is second in size only to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This was submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on August 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


A great driver and storyteller has died

budpicNOTE: I sent the following column to The North Scott Press in Eldridge, Iowa, on July 12 and it was published a couple weeks later. I’m sorry to report that the subject of the piece, Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., the NASCAR champion-turned-commentator, died after a battle with cancer at age 74 on Aug. 10. The photo is courtesy of

When I did public relations work (1990-2001) for NASCAR’s former Midwest-based, late model stock car, dirt track touring series, the Busch All-Star Series, I, along with other NASCAR field representatives, was invited to Daytona Beach every February. There we fraternized with NASCAR promoters from around the country, and we also attended some training sessions.

At one seminar, our speaker was the legendary NASCAR driver-turned-broadcast commentator Buddy Baker. One of the things he told us was that he was currently mentoring a young race driver from Indiana destined to get into Winston Cup racing. He said the driver had talent, that we’d hear about him in the future and his name, as I recall, was Ryan Newman. Baker, of course, was spot on with that assessment.
I remembered that recently when I read that Baker, now 74, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, has inoperable lung cancer.

Last November Baker thought he had a rotator cuff injury. But during an operation on his shoulder, doctors realized the true cause of his pain was a huge tumor in his lung.

Baker is a nice guy and was a fine race driver. He had 19 wins in 699 starts in NASCAR’s premier series from 1959 to 1992 and in 1998 was named by NASCAR one of its 50 greatest drivers.

Baker, not surprisingly, is taking his death sentence gracefully: “And to have a long career like I’ve had, do not shed a tear,” he says. “Give a smile when you say my name.”

I know I’ll smile when I think of Buddy Baker because, as one of the great storytellers of NASCAR, the second-generation driver is a very funny man. In particular, I’ll remember a true story about the time he fell out of an ambulance at Smoky Mountain Raceway.

I first read the story in a book about racing and since then have seen Baker relate it on video.

In the late 1960s, Baker agreed to make an appearance at the dirt track run by a friend, Don Naman. (Naman was later the first general manager of Talladega Superspeedway and a founder of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.) During the race, Baker crashed hard into a wall and, he says, broke “four or five ribs.”

The ambulance crew showed up in an old Pontiac ambulance at his demolished car and strapped him onto a stretcher. Then they loaded him into the ambulance, and the driver took off.

The ambulance driver needed to drive up the track’s banking to exit through a gate. But there was a problem. The medics, who apparently were either inept or nervous or both, had not locked the stretcher to the floor of the rig to keep it from rolling. They also had failed to latch the rear door of the ambulance.

As the ambulance turned up the track’s banking, the back door flew open and Baker, strapped tight to the stretcher, rolled right out onto the backstretch of the racetrack. Around and around the stretcher went as it rolled down the banking.

To make his predicament worse, some racecars were coming out of turn two, approaching him at caution speed, which probably seems pretty fast to someone strapped tight to a stretcher in front of them.

Baker says he was able to work one arm free, hold it up in the air and wave it frantically at the approaching drivers, and they went either side of the stretcher as it rolled toward the infield.

When the stretcher came to the inside of the track, the first two wheels dug into some mud and it somersaulted. Baker says he ended up face down in the mud, still strapped to the stretcher.

The medics, realizing they had lost their patient, quickly arrived on the scene. They lifted the stretcher back onto its wheels and found Baker covered with mud.

He is quoted as telling them, “When I get off this thing, I’m gonna kill you first.”

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on August 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


I love these people

IMG_4380After saying for years that we were going to do it, the officials of two former Midwest-based, dirt track, late model stock car touring series, NASCAR’s Busch (later O’Reilly) All-Star Series and the World Dirt Racing League, gathered for a picnic today (July 26, 2015) at Rock Creek State Park near Kellogg, Iowa.

Joining us were our spouses, who either worked at our sides at the track or kept the home fires burning while we were gone. It was a good time today with some great people and we vowed to do it again next year.

The All-Star Series, directed by Jim Wilson, ran from 1985 through 2001 and was still quite popular when NASCAR (unwisely in my opinion) ended it.

WDRL, created and operated by Jim and Nancy Wilson, then ran from 2002 through 2009. It ended because of the recession the country had been dealing with since 2008 or so.

Assisted by my wife Sherry, I was the media coordinator (handling media relations and publicity) for the All-Star Series from 1990 through 2001. Although I didn’t travel with WDRL after the first race or two like I had done with NASCAR, I worked from home handling series media needs and publicity.

The officials, most of whom worked for both series, have always been like family. And it was good to see them again and to share memories of the past. Thank you to my wife for taking this group picture.

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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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It’s a small world

Bruce and Faith Roberts.

Bruce and Faith Roberts.

Blake and Raquel Roberts.

Blake and Raquel Roberts.

They say truth is stranger than fiction. And it often is.

One day recently I received phone calls from fellow Walcott resident Verna Henning and my brother, Bruce Roberts, who lives in Champaign, Ill. And both had the same story to tell me.

Bruce and his wife Faith were in Albuquerque, N.M., to visit their son and my nephew, Blake, who is in the Air Force and stationed there, and his wife Raquel.

My brother is an avid golfer and plays every opportunity he gets. He decided to play at Paa-ko Ridge Golf Club, a course in the Sandia Mountains 20 minutes from Albuquerque, and Raquel said she’d accompany him to drive the golf cart.

When Bruce went into the clubhouse to pay for his golf game, the woman behind the counter, Renae Perrine, asked him where he was from. He told her he lived in Illinois but originally was from Iowa.

“Where in Iowa?” she wondered, noting she also was from the Hawkeye State.

“The Quad-Cities area,” Bruce answered. Renae was surprised. She told him she grew up near there and was very familiar with the area.

She then inquired where Bruce graduated from high school. It turned out that both of them were 1972 graduates of Davenport West. What are the chances of that?

“But we hadn’t known each other,” Bruce told me, because there were 800 students in their class.

There was another coincidence.

Bruce told Renae that he had a brother and sister-in-law who live in Walcott. She said she had lived in Walcott and her mother, Verna Henning, still lives there!

My wife and I have known Verna, who lives just a couple of blocks from us, for years. We also knew her late husband, Ernie, who had been a mechanic at Dietz Ford.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

I asked my brother how he did playing golf that day after the unusual revelation in the clubhouse. It wasn’t his best game, he said, because he was excited about the coincidence but also was generally out of breath.

The course, he explained, has a 6,500-foot elevation.

“After several holes, I stopped keeping score,” Bruce said. “I was more concerned about catching my breath.

“If you don’t exert yourself, you’re fine. But I was excited, plus I was walking back and forth to the cart. The course is on the side of a mountain, so it is hilly. I was walking up and down hills and wondering what was wrong with me — I couldn’t catch my breath.

“My daughter-in-law was laughing at me. She said, ‘It’s the altitude.’”

Raquel is used to the thin air because she was born and raised in New Mexico.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This ran as a column in the North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


Pity the disrespected spoon

spoonnThe late comedian Rodney Dangerfield and an eating utensil, the spoon, have something in common. Neither one gets any respect.

There are lots of problems in the world these days, and the complaint I’m about to share dealing with spoons is minor when compared to them. But it involves something that annoys me. And it’s something that can easily be remedied.

My beef? It’s the disappearance of the spoon from restaurant tables nationwide. I’ve been noticing that many restaurants are setting their tables with knives and forks but no spoons unless one orders soup.

I shouldn’t have to ask for a spoon but I often do because I don’t do well with baked beans, corn, gravy, cottage cheese and some other food items with a fork.

I’m a little shaky these days, and food often ends up falling off the fork back onto my plate or, worse yet, down the front of my shirt.

The lack of a spoon also is a problem when I order iced tea. I sweeten it with artificial sweetener, and the lack of a spoon causes me to stir it with my knife or fork. That’s tacky.

In the past, restaurants gave iced tea drinkers long-handled spoons to make stirring easier. But that often is no longer the case.

I’ve tried numerous times to figure out why many restaurants leave their spoons in the kitchen and put only knives and forks on the table. So I went to my computer and typed this question into Google: “Why do restaurants provide knives and forks but no spoons to customers?”

I didn’t find a good answer to that but I did soon learn that I’m not the only one who has a complaint about the lack of spoons. And to my surprise the complaint is not a new one.

A July 2008 post in a blog,, calls the lack of spoons an “aggravating trend” that started in chain restaurants and has moved into independent restaurants.

“The first few times it happened,” wrote the blogger, “I thought it was an oversight, especially when I ordered coffee later in the meal and was left with no way to stir in the sugar I added.

“But it is no oversight. It often happens to me in restaurants where they roll the silverware into a napkin or paper napkin. You don’t notice it until later in the meal when you need to spoon some sauce over a meat entre, etc.”

In January 2011, Tucker Shaw of the Denver Post wrote, “Dozens of visits to restaurants in Denver and beyond over the past few months reveal that the spoon, once a reliable fixture at the table, has become remarkably rare.”

I favor the opinion of someone Shaw quoted named Pat Perry, a chef and restaurant owner.

“We always set spoons,” said Perry. “As a cook, I love to see folks use their spoons to catch every last flavor. Spoons need to stay for those of us who love chow all the way to the last bite.”

And, I might add, for those of us who like to keep our shirts clean.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Uncategorized



Commencement speeches — I don’t remember most of them

Do this. Don’t do that.

This is the time of year for commencement speeches. A time when speakers pass out tips to graduates who may or may not take them.

I’ve heard many commencement speeches over the years, but I don’t remember most of them. One that did stand out was a speech by Dr. A. Lynn Bryant, president of Marycrest College from 1981-1986.

He offered three rules for achieving success:

1. Don’t give up.

2. Don’t ever give up.

3. Don’t ever ever give up.

Greg Gutfeld of Fox News, one of five commentators on a talk show called “The Five,” recently used the program to offer some advice to graduates.

But he prefaced it by saying that college commencement addresses are usually garbage.

“They’re for colleges seeking publicity,” he said. “So you end up with a star hawking platitudes to an audience suckled on baby formula called ‘The Daily Show.’”

That, of course, is a generalization and not always the case.

Here are Gutfeld’s tips for grads, edited for length:

• “Take any job, any job you can find. Work your butt off for one solid decade — that will put you 10 years up on any pothead backpacking to Europe (or) videogame-playing drone….”

• “Also, ask dumb questions and listen quietly for the answers.”

• “Steer clear of pot. It’s an ambition zapper.”

• “Move somewhere with decent public transit so you don’t drive drunk and hit somebody.”

• “Scalpel your online footprint to a fly’s toe. Twitter is the contrail of life. When I’m hiring I don’t need to see your naked butt. … Real experience beats web activity. Everything is being filmed. So any public rant you do to a clerk at a shoe store — that scars you eternally.”

• “If you’re the person doing the hiring, forgive a scar or two. Remember that when we were young, we were also idiots. There were just no cameras there to catch it.”


My wife, Sherry, has an iPod, an iPad and an iPhone. I don’t have any of those. It’s my choice. I’m really quite happy with the technology of the 1980s — or prior.

A recent headline on the cover of Consumer Reports spoke of “smart technology.”

So I jokingly asked Sherry if one of my cassette recorders/players would qualify as smart technology.

“Do you know how to operate it?” she asked.

“Yes,” I proudly replied.

“Then no, it’s not,” she said wryly.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece ran as a column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


Out of the blue: World War II photos of my dad

Philip Ingraham.

Philip Ingraham.


The platoon.

The platoon. I believe my dad is kneeling in the back row in front of the man without a helmet.

Philip Ingraham?

Philip Ingraham?

Philip Ingraham, left, and his men.

Philip Ingraham, left, and his men.

My dad, Ray Roberts.

My dad, Ray Roberts.

That may be Ray Roberts on the left in the back row next to Philip Ingraham.

That may be Ray Roberts on the left in the back row next to Philip Ingraham.

The man who is second from the left appears to be Ray Roberts.

The man who is second from the left appears to be Ray Roberts.

79thphoto3 79thphoto579thphoto6

“You’ve got a message on the answering machine,” my wife told me (on May 8). The call had come in while I was at lunch with some retired broadcaster friends.

I pressed the play button on the answering machine. A man from Connecticut who identified himself as Paul Gould said in the recorded message that he had acquired some photographs of soldiers from my father’s unit in World War II.

He said one of the men pictured was Capt. Philip Ingraham, for whom I was named, and he said he probably had photos of my dad as well. He left his phone number and asked me to call him.

I was stunned. I soon picked up the phone and dialed his number. Before I get into the conversation we had, let me give you some background.

My dad, H. Raymond Roberts, who died in 2004, was born and raised in Hannibal, Mo. Stirred into action by the December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army infantry in 1942.

In his World War II memoirs, written in 1999, Dad noted that the 79th Infantry Division was just being formed when he enlisted. “So I went straight to Company C, 315th Infantry of the 79th Division….”

His commanding officer and soon to be his good friend was First Lt. (and later Capt.) Philip Ingraham.

He “took care of his guys,” Dad wrote, and “that endeared him to his boys of Company C.”

But Ingraham lost his life in 1944.

“On July 4, we formed a line and advanced across a wheat field for maybe 200 yards to get to the hedge rows on the other side,” wrote Dad, who ended up a first sergeant. “We had no problem until we got to the hedge rows. There they were. The Germans were waiting for us. Capt. Ingraham told me to take a couple runners and go to our left behind the hedge row, as we were out in the open. I didn’t know how far he wanted us to go, so I stopped and waved to him to see if we had gone far enough.

“He raised his hand, and I saw him go down. I believe that was when he was shot. … The next day we had to advance over the same field we had lost the day before. That is bad because you know every place that a German could be and the possibility of finding bodies of guys you lost the day before.

“The Germans had moved out at night, so that was good. But we did find Capt. Ingraham’s body. He had been shot in the head. There were other bodies.

“I will never forget July 4, l944, and will never celebrate the Fourth of July,” my dad wrote. “You know, this is a good time to write about Capt. Philip Ingraham. He was a second lieutenant when he joined Company C in the states. He was with us for a long time. I worked very close with him as company clerk and communications sergeant.

“In combat I was always by his side and available when he needed me. He was the best officer under which I served. He always looked after his men in his company. He always told us to solve our own problems in our area but, if we got into trouble in town, he would do what he could. Conflicts within our company confines would not be reported but instead handled as a private matter in Company C.

“I had seen many guys killed but, when he went down, it really hit me very hard. He was so close that my son, Phil, was named after Capt. Ingraham.”

In a November 2011 posting in my blog, I wished my late father a happy Veterans Day and mentioned briefly how I got my first name. I also posted my father’s picture and one of Capt. Ingraham. It was that posting in my blog on the Internet that led to the phone call from Paul Gould.

He had purchased at a flea market some items, including the Army photos, that had belonged to a Philip Ingraham.

“I was trying to find out more about him,” Paul said. “There’s a whole bunch of photos in there I was picking through.”

An Internet search took him to my blog. He compared the photos of my dad and Ingraham to the soldiers pictured in the flea market photos. He then read about Ingraham’s death. “My heart sank when I read that,” he said. “After I read it, I felt this need to call you and tell you about it.”

Since that phone call, Paul has scanned and emailed to me a number of photographs, some of which do include my father and my namesake, Philip Ingraham.

I am thankful that Paul Gould bothered to do an Internet search. And I’m grateful that he cared enough to pick up the phone and call me.

“I felt like I had to,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to the North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.


Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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