Archived Story

The tank was low, and stations were closed

Published 12:13pm Friday, December 3, 2010

Column: Between the Corn Rows

While preparing last week’s commentary about life during the really late night or early morning hours, I was reminded of several memories. One was based on getting lost in Iowa and a frustrating night search for a service station to refill a gasoline tank that was nearing empty. Another set of memories are based on several years as a moonlighter here in Albert Lea.

Years ago when my wife and I were living in Mankato, we decided to go to Titonka, Iowa, on a Sunday afternoon to visit a college friend and his family.

Titonka is still in Kossuth County and is about 40 miles south of Blue Earth. This town is somewhat out between the corn rows on a county road.

Our visit extended well beyond dinnertime. By the time we prepared to leave, it was really dark outside. We were told to leave town on the paved road and go to the corner with a farmhouse and a big red barn. Then, by turning left, we would be heading north on the way back to Mankato. What was missing in those directions was an indication as to the mileage to the place with the big red barn.

Anyway, I just kept driving and soon came to the realization we were lost. About this time a few dim street lights indicated there was a town ahead.

Have you ever heard the old saying that when the sun goes down folks in some rural towns just roll up the sidewalks and go to bed? For this town there wasn’t any sign indicating its name. Our car was the only vehicle on its main street. I finally parked in front of a business place and saw a sign in the headlights showing it was the Woden Barber Shop.

I happened to have an Iowa map in the glove compartment and quickly found out we had gone to the east instead of north.

At this point we went north to Buffalo Center, Iowa, west to Lakota, Iowa, then north on U.S. Highway 169 to the Minnesota state line.

About the time we went past Elmore, I noticed that the extra miles resulting from being lost in Iowa had brought the gas gauge indicator fairly close to the empty point.

However, just ahead of us was the city of Blue Earth where U.S. Highways 169 and once 16 had an intersection. Now old 16 is called Faribault County Road 16. And near this place in the era before interstate highways, cell phones and even citizen band radios there were about a half dozen service stations. Yet, on that particular late Sunday night, all those stations were closed.

We had no choice except to keep going north to Winnebago and hope there might be a place with gasoline pumps that was open. By this time it was past midnight and again no service stations were open. At this point our only option was to hope for good luck and keep on going past Amboy and Vernon Center and on to Mankato. Incidentally, there was almost no traffic on U.S. 169 during those hours. Thus, if we ran out of gas, there was the assurance we would have to wait for someone to come by and hopefully give us assistance.

By the time we arrived at an all-night service station in Mankato, the car was nearly running on fumes. We filled the car’s tank with gasoline and went to our apartment to finally get some sleep.

Old bones

Now let’s switch the topic to a follow-up for the recent subject of finding old bones here in Freeborn County.

I recently had a short visit with Lawrence Klukow, who has been living in Branson, Mo., for the past 10 years.

Back in the 1960s he was using equipment to create a fish pond on the Eldo Behr farm near Conger. The drag line he was using suddenly brought up something large out of the ground. It was the skull of what turned out to be an ancient buffalo. Lawrence checked with the science teacher at Albert Lea High School and in time this fossil from the past was sent to the University of Minnesota.

Several other bones were found at the Behr farm, and Lawrence says he now has this critter’s jaw bone and several ribs.

He speculates that this older version of buffalo died over five centuries ago when it may have been run into what was then a peat bog or shallow lake by Indians or maybe wolves and became stuck in the muddy mess.

Next week we’ll continue on with the topic of night life with emphasis on the topic of moonlighting.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.