September 1 - 6, 2013
(Special thanks to Todd Vetter and Bill Ottemann for sharing their photos
and Terry Vetter for recaping the tour for us)
Eastern South Dakota always reminds me of O. E. Rolvaag's realistic portrayal of Norwegian pioneers settling the prairie in his book "Giants in the Earth." Glyndon and Mary Knutson and Larry and Shirley Snuttjer, the hosts of the September 1-6, 2013 Dakota Trails Traveling Tour, planned a remarkable six day journey through the modern prairie in which the swishing of Rolvaag's prairie grass was replaced by the swishing and ticking of 100 year old belts, pistons, and radiators. When we experienced some technical problems on our flight from Washington State, these modern technical adjustments reminded me of the start of my last tour with my brother, Todd Vetter. His 1912 Model T needed a new head gasket which he did not have any trouble finding in Hot Springs, South Dakota. However, there was quite a discussion on how tightly the head bolts should be torqued and in which order. He eventually followed Henry Ford's directions and tightened them until just before breaking. We didn't have any other problems for the rest of the tour. Although I was just a passenger and did not have to prepare a car it made me appreciate all the effort involved on a Horseless Carriage tour.
The beginning of the 2013 Dakota Trails tour started out cool in the early morning but eventually warmed into a beautiful sunny day. All of the cars with more than two cylinders and a working timing gear made the 100 mile trip to Watertown and the Terry Redlin Art Center. Leaving our marks in the Watertown hotel parking lot we set off on the longest day of the tour. It appeared that everyone enjoyed the South Dakota State University Agricultural Heritage Museum, lunch, and ice creamery in Brookings. For me, the highlight of the day was the landscape we rode through. Expansive corn and soybean fields gave way to wetlands. Although we didn't see any famous South Dakota pheasants we did see a number of water fowl, egrets, herons, and an occasional hawk soaring in the warm air. As we ventured west in the afternoon we made an unscheduled stop in a tiny town in South Dakota. Although nature was calling all around us some of the travelers in our group preferred the comforts that can only be found indoors. The school bus driver and hot lunch cook gave permission to enter the K-12 school and use the restroom. We did not have to stop at the office to sign in and we walked past open classrooms full of children. It was a refreshing stop. We heard that the Ace Hardware store was a good place to stop in Howard but our group of three Model Ts and a late '15 Dodge decided to limit our visit to the gas station. Our arrival in Mitchell concluded the longest travel day of the tour: advertised at 110 miles. It may have been a bit longer but we didn't mind because our cars were running well, the weather was nice, the company was good, and we could count on the well trained staff of the luggage vehicle to have our bags ready when we arrived.
There are many who would think that Mitchell South Dakota's most interesting destination is the world's only Corn Palace. They would be wrong. Wednesday morning found us at the Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop where craftsmen build, repair, and restore stagecoaches, hitchwagons, covered wagons, sleighs and other authentic horse-drawn vehicles. It was fascinating to see a yard full of horseless carriages parked outside a living history wagon factory. The irony was complete when a modern trailer arrived to pick up an original Studebaker Budweiser wagon that the shop had completed servicing. We left Mitchell heading south and east. In the drier fields I looked at the rock piles and some of the glacial erratics still in the fields. I only had to pick up rocks in a field on one Saturday morning as part of a church youth group fundraiser. The job is more miserable than it sounds. The fields had switched from mostly corn and soy beans to large fields of hay, most of it cut and rolled in large bales. Wednesday afternoon found us in Freeman, South Dakota at the Heritage Hall Museum. While the locals admired the cars on the tour, the members of the tour admired a 1910 Buick in the museum as well as a home built horseless carriage replica with tiller steering. The man who built the replica was asked if any of the cars on tour brought back any memories. He said that he was in his 80's and that these cars were a bit before his time. A reporter for the Freeman Courier newspaper quoted a local man who said: "These people like high class cars. Of course there are a lot of Model T's too."
Everyone was given an opportunity to reflect on the tour to this stage at the Broom Tree Retreat Center. Wednesday evening marked the last of the long mileage days. The trouble truck was kept just busy enough and there was plenty of additional help and advice on everything from repairing axle seals to testing magnetos. The sun set warmly over the hills of Southeast South Dakota, the cicadas buzzed, and as the night became darker the stars and Milky Way shown in the sky.Thursday found the tour heading through Yankton and the Lewis and Clark Recreational area. Much like the early explorers we didn't spend too much time in the area. Everyone rested their eyes while watching a film history of the local dam built across the Missouri River. From Yankton we made another unscheduled stop for lunch in the "Hay Capital of the Universe," otherwise known as Meckling, South Dakota. It is just down the road from Gayville, South Dakota: "Hay Capital of the World." We overwhelmed Toby's Lounge for lunch and their famous broasted chicken. We were not disappointed. When I was doing my fact checking on Meckling the most frequent internet search response brought up Toby's Lounge. It even has a three star Yelp review: "Have been to Toby's numerous times to eat in and carry-out. What can you say? The fried chicken is fantastic, the drinks are strong, and its dirt cheap. Also has off-sale liquor, so you can buy a bottle to take home if the mood strikes you. There is no menu other than # of pieces, light or dark." Couldn't have said it better myself. We would have lingered a little longer except the only rain of the tour was darkening the sky in the West and heading for us. We made good time leaving Meckling and arriving in Vermillion. After spending the afternoon in a lounge we naturally spent the evening at the Valiant Vineyards Winery. A good time was had by all.
For me, the stealth stop of the tour was the National Music Museum on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Although the tour's arrival had been planned for some time we arrived unexpectedly by the campus security and invaded the campus parking lot. With the parking dilemma resolved in our favor we entered the museum. The museum's understated brochure calls itself: "Extraordinary Treasures in an Unexpected Place." Imagine walking into a standard Carnegie library and discovering rooms of rare examples in the history of musical instrument craftsmanship over the past six centuries. It is probably the most extensive collection of Western musical instruments anywhere. Anyone with the slightest curiosity should view their website and video tour at www.nmmusd.org.
Leaving the hay and musical instrument capitals of the universe we returned to humble Sioux Falls where our tour began. The Friday afternoon drive was the hottest of the entire tour. I am certain that everyone was relieved to leave the heat of the prairie for the heat of the parking lot at the Sheraton hotel. A farewell banquet and an interesting hoop dance by Dallas Chief Eagle and his daughter brought the tour to a successful close. The People's Choice award went to John, Ellie and Brian Bowman from Longmont, CO for their 1909 Stoddard. The President's Choice went to Wayne and Marilyn Funk from Washington, MI for their 1912 Winton. As a special recognition, Glyndon Knutson was presented with a HCCA belt buckle.