Tricounty News

History Matters: Minnesota's Centennial Train

My usual route home from work leads through a dip where railway tracks pass over road traffic. Recently, as I headed into the dip, a mammoth black steam engine and its almost-as-large black coal car roared over me. Behind the coal car were a series of antique rail cars. My first thought was that I must have missed the notice of a Sesquicentennial train. When I arrived home I logged on to the Internet. There is no Sesqui-train. Early in the sesqui-planning, a train was proposed. After all, the Centennial Train was among the most popular initiatives in Minnesota's 1958 celebration, with an estimated half-million Minnesotans expected to visit its exhibits. It traveled the state for 135 days after its high profile welcome to Winona in mid-April by then-Governor Orville Freeman. Designed by the John Young, director of creative services at Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company at a total cost was over a million dollars; it was the most expensive project of the Centennial. Perhaps it was right next to the checkbook that, in 2008, the idea for a similar train derailed. I never did identify the antique engine I saw; perhaps it was just a phantom. So, put on your 1958 glasses for another glimpse of the Centennial Train. Minnesota's 100th birthday came at a time of great optimism throughout the state and nation. We were just three years from the first human spaceflight by the Russian Yuri Gagarin in April and the American Alan Shephard in May. With Buck Rogers we were dreaming of conquering the universe. When we looked back, we also saw progress. No one had yet seriously challenged our thinking of the whys and hows of Western domination of the opening frontier while driving Native Americans from their traditional way of life so that pioneers could cut the timber and plow the prairie. Every day our sense of progress was reinforced as thousands of inventions were quickly transforming daily living. This was, for instance the year Kimball shut down its operator driven phone system and made the jump to dial phones. The new freezers on the market encouraged folks to buy during low priced sales, stocking up for savings and convenience. Electricity, NSP reminded us, was "penny cheap." The Centennial Train celebrated all that excitement and optimism. There were six exhibit cars, covering history, resources, agriculture, industry, social progress and welfare, and the future. Three additional cars were for the crew. Minnesota's eleven railways pooled their rights of way to allow movement of the rolling exhibit, carrying "the North Star State's Centennial story through the state." On June 19, the Tri-County News carried a story of the Centennial Train with stops at Buffalo and St. Cloud. The article describes a visit to the train that would include all of one's senses, including the "odor of fresh-cut alfalfa" in the agriculture car. The industry car emphasized the three Ps - "people, processes and products." The history car had flags from each of the nations that had once flown over Minnesota along with both 'competing' versions of the Minnesota constitution. "Stepping into the final Car of the Future will be an experience akin to a trip to outer space ... The floor in this car is raised to create an illusion of 'looking down at the world through clouds.' In view will be an enclosed stadium, a city of tomorrow including moving side-walks and freeway systems ... a cut away of an underground atomic power plant, and rocket airports and space stations." I guess I haven't visited a rocket airport or space station yet, but clearly the envisioned future is pretty much here. Flash Gordon is no longer just a comic. Disappointingly, there is no Sesqui-Train. But surprising and educational exhibits are on display. Most impressive is MN-150, celebrating 150 significant people, accomplishments, and resources of our state and its history. While there will not be a rolling exhibit traveling to each community, you can roll to them. Don't let the opportunity pass by to see our states' history this summer or fall. Visit the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Plan to spend the whole day; you won't want to see closing time arrive. ********** Looking back: The Kimball Area Historical Society, founded in 2000, truly appreciates your friendship and support - for renewing your support through membership, attending our special events and your continued generous donations for the preservation of Kimball's City Hall, we thank you. See the magnificent huge new windows on south and north sides of the building. Phase three finishes up in 2008 with east and west brick and window restoration, attic insulation, electric replaced, rain gutter, new front signage, for the 100th birthday of this National Historic Landmark in the heart of Kimball. ********** Join the celebration: Just a couple weeks and Kimball Days will be in full swing. Hope it's on your calendar. Aug. 8 - Supper in the Park happens and exhibit at city hall; Aug. 9 - history exhibit and birthday party at city hall with handouts, prizes, sourvenirs and tours. "Come for a visit ... stay for a journey." ********** Restoration moves indoors: Leave your mark on city hall, make your gift or pledge now for phase four, as your donation is doubled by matching state grants, is tax deductible, and begins focusing on the interior. But, we need your help, if the project is to continue. More important than just a visual facelift, Kimball's only structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will add to the energy-saving windows, another dimension of cost cuts in half by heat system efficiency. "Structurally sound candidate for restoration" says state historical architect. Your name will be on the next donor placques installed in the city hall. You, too can become part of Kimball's heritage! ********** Watch for September and October events: "Forest City Stockade" and Dean Urdahl's "Uprising" in 1862. ********** For more information on the above, membership, city hall tax deductible donations, items for this column and our collection of photos or stories, contact The Kimball Historical society, Box 100, Kimball, Minn. 55353; (320) 398-5743, (320) 398-5250 or toll-free (800) 252-2521. ********** "Building on our heritage."