2022 T-Bone Trail · Family Adventures · Iowa Food · Museums and History · West Central Iowa

I Love Norma, Victoria & All of Shelby: Panama Road Trip in Western Iowa

*One of the pound for pound best counties in Iowa for delicious restaurants is home to towns called Defiance, Harlan, Elk Horn, Panama, Earling and more. If you’re hungry then make this visit happen! Our trip to Shelby County was sponsored and funded by the Western Iowa Tourism Region. Some of the meals, services and goods were complimentary. The views expressed in this blog post are of our own. Now, let’s Gallivant!

This Shelby County gallivant is officially in session!

Shelby County, Iowa

I know what some folks might be thinking when it comes to getting the hankering for a culinary inspired road trip. Make reservations for one of the metro areas and go from there, right? Not a bad idea at all. However, it’s not the only option out there. How about planning a delicious getaway for a Western Iowa county that has the Western Skies Scenic Byway, one of the state’s Danish villages, and a way to land in Panama without a passport! Let’s belly up to Shelby County! But first, let’s get some coffee and see some agricultural wonders…


You can get a big cup of coffee everyday but it’s not everyday you can get it at a place the sells flowers! You can coffee-up in Harlan at Floral Elegance on the square!


Portsmouth, Iowa for one of the most interesting agricultural collections in the state at Smith Family Collectables!
Mr. Smith himself! He has a detailed story that goes with every piece he exhibits, and he truly knows how to host intrigued visitors!
John Deere collectors seem to have something amazing every time I run into one. Smith Family Collectible has that amazing department stocked up to the celling!
Even some of the rarest toys you can imagine are here in Portsmouth. Did you know that John Deere briefly manufactured bicycles, too? You do now!


Ok, you heard me hype the restaurant scene in Shelby County so let’s get started. Many folks outside of Western Iowa have heard of our lunchtime endeavor and it’s because of their award winning breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. That’s a great reason, right! However that’s not all they’re serving up at Victoria Station in Harlan!

An actual train depot turned into a destination restaurant that’s nestled into an off the beaten path neighborhood in Harlan! 407 Victoria Street
Look at this band of locals enjoying a gallivant with us! We’re hungry for Harlan!
Victoria Station makes it easy for their customers when it comes to the appetizer executive decision. They have an excellent selection and these onion rings are a must-have!
Ok, everything is a must have at Victoria Station like these cheesy mushroom caps filled with their famous beef dip!
Get ready for gourmet sandwiches at Victoria Station. They may have won an award for the best pork tenderloin in the state of of Iowa, but if there’s ever a Reuben competition….Let’s just say this old train depot that could is quite possibly an early favorite. One of the best I’ve had in all of a Iowa!
There it is! You probably had a feeling this was showing up. Harlan’s breaded pork tenderloin superstar! Look at that crunchy devil!
A classic bacon cheeseburger given the wonderful Victoria Station touch! You can almost get a whiff of that bacon in this picture…
Bleu cheese salad for the Bleu cheese nation! Victoria Station DOES NOT skimp on these magical crumbles on their salads!
Then came one of the most loaded roast beef sandwiches in Western Iowa with a cup of hot and rich au jus for a big beefy flavored punch. Click on the video below and get another look at this fantastic lunch hour at Victoria Station in Harlan, Iowa!
Tons of flavors and a lot of happy customers at this Victoria Station table!

Stay Active

2022 was the year we stumbled upon more prairies than any other year in our travels. We’re going to make a habit of that moving forward because many of these preserves are some of the most peaceful areas of Iowa.

Off the beaten path and worth the careful drive up the rural hill is Dinesen Prairie. This Shelby County preserve has never experienced a plow.
The views, wildlife and familiar breezes that whistle through the grassy terrain all have their own unique feeling with every preserve I’ve been to. Click on the video below to hear it and see it for yourself at Dinesen Prairie.

An Easy Trip to Panama

This town is a little north of the canal but very nicely located in this entertaining flock of Western Iowa communities! We’d like to thank everyone at the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce & Industry for hosting us all day long during this gallivant. It was another amazing day in this county including our maiden voyage to Panama, Iowa! (Photo by Lori Christensen)
What was the last word in the chamber’s official name? Industry! One of the largest employers in Shelby County and one of Iowa’s most well known trucking fleets is Panama Transfer!
I got the tour of their Panama, Iowa HQ with an up-close view of these big rigs that I’ve started to notice even more since this visit.
The Panama Transfer logo pops in this picture and it will when you’re on the road asking the driver to toot the horn! They welcomed us into their facility and showed us all around with a lot of pride in their work because there’s a lot that goes into getting these big boys on the road. A legion of forklift operators that get the trailers loaded on the daily with an experienced team handling logistics, admin, dispatch, maintenance and those classic Panama Transfer drivers that keep it all trucking!

Beer Me, Panama!

It’s still a service station just a different kind of service. No gas and all beer!
When the hosts at Panama Transfer offer you a cold one at Bent Rim you say, giddy-up! I love it when someone’s hobby is craft beer! (Photo by Lori Christensen)
Home brewing at its most mesmerizing. I thought we were going to have a choice or two, but the Bent Rim tasting room opened up to this scene!
The mad scientist himself! A little project has turned into a crafty Panama perk. Cold craft beer, energetic atmosphere and surrounded by the locals we came to Shelby County to hang out with! I think I’d book a party here…Hey, there’s an idea for a return trip to Panama!
A dark beer loving grin because that’s exactly what I’m knocking. That’s a refreshing way to enjoy Panama!
The gang’s all here at Bent Rim! There might have been a few embellishments told by the guy at the bar with the overalls. If only Coach would have started me…..Anyways, bottoms up! (Photo by Lori Christensen)

Let’s Eat Steak

Are you a Marylin Monroe fan that ranges from kinda to super mega huge fan? Then you’re going to want to get a road trip planned for Panama and Norma Jean’s Bar & Grill!

Another Shelby County crew urging us to come in, park it and start enjoying a tasty meal! Norma Jean’s has the goods on making their meals feel like Western Iowa home cookin’!
The owner of Norma Jean’s is on that super mega huge spectrum when it comes to being a fan of the golden age of Hollywood, and it’s most iconic actress.
There’s no business like Ribeye business! Norma Jean’s went thick-cut for supper with a side of their oh-so lovely potato chips that you must get when you’re dining here. Click on the video below and listen to what we had to say about this scrumptious steak in Panama, Iowa!
I like a little crunch with my juicy steak!

Sundown on the Bend

I like to take a long and peaceful walk after big meals like the one we got at Norma Jean’s. Just outside of Harlan is Nishna Bend Rec Area with its trails and scenery that gave me the tranquility I was looking for.
Another perfect evening on The T-Bone Trail in Western Iowa. These sunsets were the constant companion all season long….


Harlan is Shelby’s county seat and its where you’ll find most of there area’s hotels for your own excursion into Western Iowa. A short drive to all of what Harlan offers is the Baymont!

Us and a cast of fellow travelers and their families filled up the Harlan Baymont! I guess Shelby County was a popular destination on this weekend. 5015 Ridgeway Drive 712-560-4955
We gallivant all day and it’s always rewarding when we have a clean room with comfortable beds awaiting our arrival. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep with my portion of fluffy pillows.
Hold on! Pass me the clicker because I can’t go to bed until I watch the weather for awhile!
The complimentary breakfast was ready for all the Baymont guests and we were geared up to partake! Gigi has a unique style of Belgian waffle eating because why pour the syrup when you can dunk it in a bowl of syrup!
As for Papa Bear, he likes to start his day off with a nice portion of biscuits and gravy with more than a few shakes from the black pepper container! Great job all around, Baymont! Thanks for being our Shelby County-HQ because we had a comforting stay and hot breakfast that’s we’d do all over again!

We had another phenomenal trip to Shelby County and it was no surprise to me when I saw how gracious and cheerful our hosts were once again. They showcased more of what didn’t get to see during Season 1 of The T-Bone Trail, and assured us there’s still plenty of other avenues we can take for another return trip, and we’ll just have to make that happen and get on that Western Skies Scenic Byway again! Tell Norma and Victoria I miss them!

Make your reservations for Baymont-Harlan on their website.

Be sure to like the T-Bone Trail-Western Iowa on Facebook!
What souvenir did I take home? Great question! 1 big jug of Lil Angels BBQ sauce that’s made in Westphalia, and it helped us make some mean Sloppy Joes in our home! Oh, baby these were killer!

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