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The Yellowstone Trail - Forging Transcontinental Routes

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Cannonshot, Mar 27, 2010.

  1. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Only 100 years ago, transcontinental transportation was principally by rail. The Yellowstone Trail was one of several initiatives to establish routes for crossing the country by automobile.

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    Over the past few days I took a ride along what used to be the Yellowstone Trail as it crossed Wisconsin and I took in some history along the way. What I found is probably pretty typical of what went down in other states. Along the way I made some interesting stops and explored stuff that ranged from a regular pit stop for Al Capone when he traveled to one of his hideouts, a shoot-out between draft dodgers and a Marshal's posse, and a small town boy that designed Cray supercomputers. I'll also cover some history about early highway initiatives and what it took to "get out of the mud".

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    You are welcome to ride along and take in some of the history and stories that are part of the trip.
    #1
  2. viola-tor

    viola-tor Needs to ride!

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    Hey cool! Another Cannonshot RR, excellent... :thumb
    #2
  3. Gale B.T.

    Gale B.T. Long timer

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    Cannonshot, since I am married to a Cheese Head , you have got our attention, so we are IN, GO !!:clap
    #3
  4. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    As I mentioned, not too long ago cross country travel was a rail trip. In Wisconsin, most roads were local and fed into market towns that had rail service. Wisconsin did not have a connected highway system at that time. This early map depicts rail lines which was typical for the time.

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    Roads were often of poor quality. With automobile sales taking off, people were anxious to be able to travel on decent roads that would take them places.

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    Just as we have our local motorcycle get-togethers to go riding, early automobile owners had "sociability runs" to tour area roads as entertainment while helping each other through the mud and ruts.

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    The Yellowstone Trail Association was one of many private groups that worked to get long distance roads. In fact, the YTA was able to create a transcontinental route across the more northern band of states. The way this worked is that members of the YTA went from county to county persuading them to build a road that crossed their county to connect to roads that were put into neighboring counties. By working in these small building blocks, eventually a route was completed that ran from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound. It was called the Yellowstone Trail having been named in honor of the National Park. The road was marked with yellow trail markers to guide travelers. Maps and travel guides were also published. Since much of the west was far less developed than the east people were dubious about trying to travel there by automobile. The YTA developed into a tourist promoting business as well and established travel bureaus to give information and advice to travelers.

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    The towns along the route paid fees to the YTA to advertise in their literature. The prospect for economic development as a result of motorists coming through their towns was so lucrative that some towns fought hard to be included on the route.

    It took from 1912 to 1919 to get the transcontinental Yellowstone Trail firmly established.

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    #4
  5. BlueByU06

    BlueByU06 Ribbon Rider

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    This is going to be good cause I see U ride the same M/C as I do which means I should be able to dupicate the expenience too. So let the show unfold as it may.
    :lurk Bob
    #5
  6. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Hope you enjoy some of the stories!


    Thanks for your interest (and the PM)! We'll be going through your wife's hometown shortly.


    As usual, I will post a link later in the report so people can download the GPS file in case others want to ride some or all of this themselves. It might be a nice diversion for those that need to cross Wisconsin as part of another ride. But first I need to make a few edits to account for recent changes in the current road network.

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    #6
  7. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    The tour begins in Hudson on the west coast of Wisconsin near Minneapolis.
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    This causeway across the St. Croix River once had a tall bridge on the far side. There was a toll of 25 cents for each car and driver with an additional charge of 5 cents per passenger. Needless to say many young people took a ride across this causeway in the trunk to avoid paying the nickel passenger toll. When the bridge was opened in 1913, there were six automobiles that crossed during the first month. By 1950 there were 4,000 crossing per day. The bridge has long since been removed (replaced by a nearby interstate highway bridge) and the causeway is now a pleasant place to take a stroll.
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    This is the view coming off the causeway and looking up what would have been a main street at the time of the trail.
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    If you were looking for a meal back then you would have either stopped here at what used to be the Yellowstone Trail Buffet . . .
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    . . . or here at this fine looking structure from over a hundred years ago that used to be the Yellowstone Cafe.
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    Prospect Park was created in 1885. In 1922 it included a travel camp for people running the YT.
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    It had a cooking shelter and a dining shelter. The camp was free.
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    Communities eager to get travelers to linger in their towns put together these camps. Some were free and some had a small fee (like 25 cents). The YT guide advertised hotel and camping accommodations as well as garages where one could get their car repaired or serviced.
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    The camp overlooked the town and the causeway and was quite a climb in those old buckets.
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    Hudson is named after the Hudson river valley since some claim a similar appearance.
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    Hudson was a lumber town, a railroad stown, and a steamboating town. In 1922 there was a picnic and celebration about a small section of road that ran into the town being paved. About 2,000 people (a lot) attended this ceremony and celebration as "a recognition of the importance of the problem of the country highway as an artery of commerce". By the way, if you were looking for a public restroom as part of your travel in the early days, they had a ladies room (not a mens room) in the basement of the Carnegie Library.
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    Take away the curb, gutter, and pavement and this probably looks like a piece of the YT back then.
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    Where steamboats once pushed up to the bank as an important part of river commerce, even at the time of the YT, now pleasure boats dominate. Keep in mind that we didn't have much highway trucking back then. We had railroads and rivers.
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    With lumber, railroads, and steamboats, this town had a few well to do citizens. There is a historic homes tour that takes in 17 notable structures.
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    In 1910, shortly after the Boy Scouts was formed, 86 boys were part of an experimental encampment two miles down river from Hudson. The success of this early venture is credited with helping to develop the Boy Scouts into the major organization it has become. Hudson seems proud of being part of that.
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    #7
  8. grizzzly

    grizzzly The Pre-Banned Version

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  9. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Much of the Yellowstone Trail follows railroad lines across the country. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. First of all the towns that they were trying to connect with a road were towns that would have sprung up along a rail line. Second, traveling along these routes preserved farmland to some extent. Early road maps of Wisconsin show a lot of 90 degree corners and "stair step" looking roads. This is because west of Ohio federal survey laws allowed 66 foot rights-of-way along section lines between the square mile sections of farmland.
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    Even though the roads have shifted around a bit as they straightened things out and improved the grades, there are still a lot of sections of original trail. Some bear names that reflect this.
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    This is a section of the original trail that still bears the name.
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    There was a man with no feet and only one partial hand who helped build the Yellowstone Trail.

    In 1880, 14 year old Michael Dowling was riding in the back of a wagon in a Minnesota blizzard when the wagon hit a bump and Dowling was pitched out. No one heard him yelling over the howling of the storm. Dowling wandered around in the white out for a few hours before he decided to crawl into a haystack to try to keep warm. The next morning the sun came out and Dowling made a break for a nearby farm that was now visible. His hands and feet were frozen like wooden blocks so he couldn't walk. He crawled to the farm house and sought help. Two weeks later he had his gangrenous limbs trimmed off. Using chloroform, the doctor did the surgery on the kitchen table. He tooks both legs below the knees, the left arm, and the fingers of the right hand.
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    Dowling healed for three years as a ward of the county while separated from his family. Eventually Dowling begged the county for two terms at Carleton College. He promised that if the county hooked him up with some prostheses and some college, he would become self supporting and get off of government support. Eventually Dowling became a teacher, banker, newspaper editor, drove and sold cars, hunted moose, and even visited military hospitals after WWI inspiring wounded veterans about not letting adversity hold you down.
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    As an auto dealer Dowling got interested in the YT and blazed a primitive route from MN to Yellowstone National Park. He then shipped his car via the Great Lakes to the east to cover the route there. By the way, in some areas of the east there were up to 11 colors on utility poles marking different routes. Yellow was the color of the YT. Dowling was a huge promoter of the YT. He was also fond of saying "Thank god I'm not a cripple!"

    Dowling and a friend in a car.
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    #9
  10. OleGrumpy

    OleGrumpy TFM/ODS/HDS Proficient Orange Man Bad Supporter

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    One Red Leg to another, Shot over; Shot out. :lol3
    #10
  11. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Following the railroad led to a lot of primitive crossings. In the early days of automobiling, there were too many fatalities as the result of train versus car collisions.
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    Once we got into the 1920s, federal and state governments got into developing highways and funds became available to improve these crossings. Some improvements came in the form of wooden bridges.
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    Some of these rumbling board bridges are still in use.
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    High grades sometimes prevented crossings and required underpasses instead.
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    Even lower grade modern crossings have standards that require visibility. Back in the day there may have been trees and brush all the way to the crossing.
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    You can imagine the carnage when something like this steam behemoth struck one the those frail early automobiles.
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    Not that there was much they could do about it if they saw something in a crossing, but I don't think the train crew enjoyed much visibility either.
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    One thing I like about getting off the major highways onto routes like this is seeing the small towns and trying to imagine what life was like years ago. This hotel, just up the hill from the railroad, was built in 1879 and is still going strong.
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    In 1913 motorists in this tiny town of Baldwin started the Baldwin Motor Club. Their purpose included "for social purposes, to promote good trails, and the general welfare of the automobile game". Sounds a lot like our motorcycle clubs of today.
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    I'm sure that many of you have heard of or used the Woodall travel guides. In 1915, Woodall himself came through Baldwin carefully preparing a Yellowstone Trail travel guide. Some of the guide notes told of a free camp park and a good country hotel. The guide pointed out that the Community Club maintained the auto park near the creamery. It had room for 5 cars, 20 people, and was a half acre in size. They said the opera house had moving pictures twice a week.
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    Another timber town, Woodville, was incorporated in 1911. They got a newspaper in 1913, electricity in 1914, and a water system in 1920. Lumber was BIG business in this region.
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    #11
  12. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Another thing I liked about hitting these small towns off the beaten path was seeing the number of artillery pieces they had on display as memorials to their veterans. Some take meticulous care of them showing a great deal of respect to their own.
    #12
  13. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    :thumb
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  14. Greenflyfarmer

    Greenflyfarmer I'm better now.

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    Great history lesson.
    #14
  15. bg

    bg Monster

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  16. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I swung through what used to be the booming lumber town of Hersey. Hersey also had a white clay mine at one time. White clay is used to make porcelain china.
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    Seems like if anything will survive, a tavern will.
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    This church was built in 1915, right at the time the YT was being put together. The brick is likely from nearby Menomonie where there were once 7 brickyards that took advantage of the favorable clay in the area. Men would work in the brickyards in the summer and in the logging business in the winter. There was a YT tourist camp across the street from this church on the edge of town.
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    It is hard to see how difficult this hill was back in the days of the YT. It has since been improved to removed the steepness and scariness.
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    Back in the day, many automobiles had to back up the hill to keep fuel flowing to the engine.
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    It is time to collect sap for cooking maple syrup in this area. Rather than hang pails from trees, this guy uses a modern plumbing system of plastic tubing to pipe sap into a large collecting tank.
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    In Menomonie, I swung through one of the brickyard areas to see what was left. The area had been nicely reclaimed and now held the humane society, a dog exercise park, and a disc golf course that was laid out through the hills and woods.
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    Elevated tee box.
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    I rode into Menomonie to check a few things out. By the way a hotel room there back at the time of the YT would have run about $1.25 for a single. A double with bath was about $4. The local tourist camp was a quarter.

    The University of Wisconsin - Stout started out in 1891 as the Stout Manual Training School. James Stout put it together. In 1873, Knapp Stout Co was the largest corporation in the world (lumber bidness).
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    Stout was a forward thinker about things including roads. In 1898 he built a 1/2 mile section of the "road of the future". His point was to demonstrate new road building designs and techniques that used local materials. The section he put in was a multi-lane road that had two earth roads, a stone road, a bicycle path, and a walking path. It is gone now, but it demonstrates an interest in developing the roads that were lacking at the time.
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    Tainter gates were invented in 1886 in Menomonie. These radial arm floodgates are used in dams all over the world. Menomonie also claims the first electric outboard motor. The guy responsible for the outboard started putting things together in 1897 by mounting a one cylinder engine on his bicycle because he didn't like pedaling uphill. Later in life he got into auto racing and for three decades dominated the sport with his Miller Specials. In the 1929 Indy 500, 27 of 33 starters were Miller powered.
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    The Mabel Tainter Theater was built in 1889. There was obviously some money in the lumber business.
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    I had to watch the corners on this cold but sunny day. There was still a lot of sand around that had been spread on winter roads over the past few months. Took some of the "sporty" out of the ride.
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    #16
  17. Hodag

    Hodag Native

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    Thank You James Huff Stout
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  18. DockingPilot

    DockingPilot Hooked Up and Hard Over

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  19. Gummee!

    Gummee! That's MR. Toothless

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  20. Bob

    Bob Formerly H20Pumper Supporter

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    Nice look into the history book!
    #20