July 1994. Alvin Straight is a discreet inhabitant of Laurens, a village in Iowa: he’s even “a very aloof fellow that few people ever came to know,” according to a local. Leading a peaceful farming life, he keeps on living happily by the age of 73 with his wife and daughter. Alvin has the sense of family – he’s the proud father of seven children – but it’s been a long time he has not heard about his brother, Henry. They did not speak to each other for almost, what, ten years?
Until that day of July, when Alvin learns that Henry recently suffered a stroke; he packs gasoline, tent, and food supplies at lighting speed in his hurry to pay him a visit. The only thing is that his brother is settled in Blue River, Wisconsin – some 240 miles away – and that Alvin has neither a driver license, nor anybody to drive him all the way. But the Iowa farmer has more than one trick up his sleeve: without further thinking, he jumps on his lawn mower and rides it out of the garage, out of his property, out of town.
At a maximal speed of 5 miles per hour (8 km/h), Alvin keeps on driving straight. Unfortunately, his engine breaks after four days and he has to stop and to fix it. That being done, he resumes his journey across the U.S. until, 90 miles later, he is brought to another halt in Charles City: short of money, he has to wait a few more weeks to receive his monthly retirement benefits. And the tireless lawn mower starts on again… to eventually end up only two miles away from his brother’s house. A sympathetic farmer would help him push it all the way to Blue River.
The trip, which took 6 weeks in total, would have been mowing more than 38 hectares of land – the size of 71 US football fields – if it had been used the way it is designed for. In case he ever wanted to ride a lawn-mower again, Alvin was given a brand new John Deere machine from a Texan equipment supplier. He was also asked for numerous interviews, most of which he turned down.
Henry Straight recovered well, and decided to move later to Iowa so that he could see his lawn-mower-riding “superhebro” more often.
Alvin died in November 1996 in Laurens, at the respectable age of 76. A lawn mower similar to the one he had ridden during his great adventure across the country joined the funeral procession to the place he rests, in Ida Grove Cemetary.
There’s no one knows your life better than a brother that’s near your age. He knows who you are and what you are better than anyone on earth. My brother and I said some unforgivable things the last time we met, but, I’m trying to put that behind me… and this trip is a hard swallow of my pride. I just hope I’m not too late… a brother’s a brother.
– Alvin, The Straight Story (1999)