The rail fan and the local Danish baker

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 24, 1999

One of oddest items I’ve encountered in a long time comes as an excerpt from a German language book, &uot;Auf den Spuren des Feurrosses.

Friday, December 24, 1999

One of oddest items I’ve encountered in a long time comes as an excerpt from a German language book, &uot;Auf den Spuren des Feurrosses.&uot; According to Anna Marie Harshbarger of Albert Lea, this title roughly translates to &uot;Following the Trail of the Iron Horse&uot; (Conquest of America by the steam engine or locomotive). This book was written by Max Baumann and published in 1972 by Gloria Publishers of Spreitzenbach, Switzerland.

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On a postcard sent to the Tribune last month, Anna Marie wrote, &uot;My friends from Munich, Germany, (a couple whose acquaintance I made here in 1992 as folk dancers at the Freeborn County Fair) have sent me the copy of a letter which was printed in a 1972 railroad publication of Swiss origin. My friend, Karl, is a railroad buff. This letter was written by a German or Swiss person who was visiting Sven Knudsen, the owner of the Danish Bakery, which I remember rather fondly.&uot;

What Anne Marie received from Munich was in the German language. She has translated this letter into English. Because of the length factor, plus some added comments and/or explanations, there will be two columns based on a visit to Albert Lea and a local baker by someone from either Germany or Switzerland.

When was this visit made? According to what I have determined from old city directories, the Danish baker named Sven Knudsen came to Albert Lea in either 1956 or ’57. Thus, this visit 12 years later was likely made in either 1968 or ’69.

Now, here’s the first part of this letter or book excerpt:

&uot;We are spending several days with Sven Knudsen, a Danish baker, who settled in Albert Lea 12 years ago. As his guests, we enjoy having escaped the dust of the road and to be taken care of in a family circle (or surrounded by family). Besides, this stay here gives us good insights into the American way of life in the Middle West.

&uot;Albert Lea has 30,000 inhabitants and lies on one of the 10,000 lakes which Minnesota claims. It sits in midst of corn fields, with no hill in sight; even trees are a rarity.

&uot;Albert Lea is the county seat and has several industrial plants, among them a refrigerator factory and a slaughterhouse. That’s not a whole lot, however the little town stands at the threshold of an economic boom. Here, at this point in the center of the Great Plains, the two most important interstates are crossing, which connect the U.S. from East to West and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Presently,the gigantic on and off ramps are still in the process of being built. The two super highways still have unfinished stretches, which need to be completed in the near future. So, the future has begun for the (now) insignificant (humble) Albert Lea.&uot;

Incidentally, the &uot;refrigerator factory&uot; was Scotsman-Queen Products Division of King-Seeley Thermos Co. on Front Street, and the &uot;slaughterhouse&uot; was the Wilson and Co. plant on the city’s east side.

Those other comments about Albert Lea’s population, lack of hills (after all, we’re not in the Alps of Minnesota), alleged shortage of trees, and the big future for the city based on the Interstate highway crossroads are certainly interesting.

We’ll continue on in the next column with the rest of this letter or book excerpt and an update on Sven Knudsen, the city’s former Danish baker. Meanwhile, it’s time once again for another &uot;Footloose Footnote.&uot;

The following item was found by Linda Evenson, the Freeborn County Historical Society librarian, on page 5 of the May 23, 1889, issue of the Freeborn County Standard.

&uot;The new signal flags now wave in the breeze. Their explanation is as follows: Square white flag, clear or fair; square blue flag, rain or snow; black triangular flag, refers to temperature – when placed below the white or blue flag it means colder weather, when not displayed the temperature will be nearly stationery. The white flag with a black center indicates the approach of a sudden and decided fall in temperature.&uot;

This weather flag news item from 110 years ago can create a few legitimate questions. First, where did these flags fly? Second, who was responsible for them? And, third, did these flags tell folks something they already knew, or was there an intention to actually predict the coming weather conditions? Just wondering, that’s all.

Merry Christmas to all the fine Tribune readers!