Stoneage Ramblings

By John R. Stone

A couple of Saturdays ago we got in the car and headed out for a “let’s go see how this area is doing” road trip. We do this every month or two, just poke around the area for part of a day.

That day’s trip was west. We headed up to Hoffman, then over to Wheaton then south to Browns Valley and Ortonville, then back home, maybe 200 miles in all.

 It was interesting to see how quickly the farm fields had gone from full of drying crops to black. In fields where there was still work going on the tractors were huge but then west of Hoffman the farm fields are large. Tractors were tracked or all wheel drive, tillage equipment was very wide and where harvesting was taking place semis were parked in the fields.

I remember coming to Pope County in the early 1970s and taking the seasonal farm pictures for this paper. Everything was smaller then, farmers used gravity boxes instead of semis to haul grain. But yields were lower then, too. Back then 100 to 125 bushels of corn per acre was a good crop. I have heard a couple of reports from reliable sources that some farms were getting 260 to 270 bushels per acre this year which was kind of a surprise given the late start most farmers got with our very wet spring.

With the smaller equipment and smaller farms I could go out and find somebody working in just about every field on a nice day for a picture. Now crews come in and harvest a crop, collect whatever residue they wish to keep and turn the field black almost overnight.

From Wheaton to Ortonville one drives along Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake. Those two lakes represent around 50 miles or more of the state’s border with South Dakota. There are a few places where one is away from the lake, like the jog through Beardsley and there are few places where one is really close to the lake.

At Browns Valley one is at the north-south Continental Divide, water leaving Lake Traverse flows north, water south of town flows south to Big Stone Lake. It was interesting while driving along those two lakes to see the development on both sides, South Dakotans like water just as we do.

 Minnesota State Highway 7 starts just east of Beardsley, we lived further down on that same highway in Minnetonka when I was growing up in the 1950s.

While in Ortonville we decided to see if we could find the lake outlet. The lake outlet is the start of the Minnesota River.

Sure enough, just where Highway 12 crosses to South Dakota is a dam just north of the highway with adjustable gates to let water out of Big Stone Lake. These days just a trickle was being allowed through one or two of the lift gates that hold the water back. The first few hundred feet of the Minnesota River were pretty dry!

There’s a museum on the east side of Ortonville at the intersection of Highway 12 and 75. It was closed so we looked at some of the outside exhibits. One was a riverboat that once served on the lake. There was also a granite saw used to carve blocks of granite for tombstones and other monuments. I’m not sure how the saw worked but it could handle an 8’ by 8’ by 12’ hunk of granite, which would weight about 80 tons according to an information plaque. There was also a log cabin, school and church like we have at the Pope County Museum.

I think both Highway 27 west of Hoffman and Highway 29 between Benson and Starbuck got some surface work done this past year. Both were improved.

Of course to start that trip I had to drive over the new Highway 29 bridge over the railroad tracks just north of Glenwood. It was a nice change from the stop sign and the occasional train blocking the roadway!

The next day, heading to church, there was a train sitting on the tracks. No waiting anymore, we just went over the bridge and on our way!