Imagine driving an open-air Model T wearing an all-weather duster and goggles in a time without reflective road signs, center lines or even a reliable arrival time at your destination. If you ventured out in the country, chances are you traversed log roads, dirt roads, cow paths and abandoned stagecoach lanes. Now imagine doing that with two wooden legs, a wooden arm and hand, and only a thumb on the other hand, without power steering!
That was the audacious goal of Michael Dowling, an auto dealer from Olivia, MN, who lost his limbs from frostbite as a child, and who also was a teacher, newspaperman, banker, legislator and World War I inspirational speaker. In 1913 he led a three-car caravan as the first to traverse the fledgling 3,700-mile Yellowstone Trail, from Puget Sound, WA, to Plymouth Rock, MA, and right through Hudson.
Armed with early auto guides giving directions such as “straight thru across RR on good graded dirt,” Dowling was lucky when he was guided by painted yellow rocks or black arrows in yellow circles on fences, telegraph poles, silos, barns or other buildings pointing the way along the transcontinental trail.
Hudson's Yellowstone Trail Heritage Days
Like those that once lined the Yellowstone Trail, painted rocks and yellow signs with black arrows will mark Hudson’s Second Annual Yellowstone Trail Days, May 13-15. Visitors can explore the era with car runs along the trail plus historical tours, a car show, stage show, high wheel bike demos, a carnival, strolling musicians, an architectural treasure hunt, author appearances and more.
“Last year the initiative was to get the Yellowstone Trail marked with signage,” said Andrea Jorgenson, director of communications and programs at the . The original trail runs from the old toll bridge road (also known as dike road) to Third and St. Croix streets and on to County Road A and U.S. Highway 12, but a route from Vine Street/County Road UU to Jacobs Lane and U.S. Highway 12 was adopted in 1919.
Jorgenson said that interest and enthusiasm in this year’s event is very high.
“It’s now a regional event with many other communities participating over the summer," she said. "The goal is to get it nationally recognized as a historic byway. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the trail so we expect it to become even bigger.”
The Road’s Back Story
One of the first transcontinental roads, the Yellowstone Trail began in 1912 when South Dakotans successfully advocated a national, northern county-to-county citizen road-building effort in either direction. The idea took hold; in 1913 the ferry across the St. Croix River to Minnesota at Hudson was replaced by a toll bridge as rapid advances in automobile technology allowed more and more citizens to become mobile in a new way.
“Get out of the mud!” became the rallying cry for this national road effort. The Yellowstone Trail bisected Wisconsin from 1915 to 1930, and the state was the first in the nation to number its roads in 1918 and possibly the first region of the the world to do so, according to Introducing the Yellowstone Trail authors John and Alice Ridge. The Ridges are officials with the Yellowstone Trail Association and speaking and book-signing at Octagon House events Saturday noon-4:30 pm.
A self-guided tour guide, Driving the Yellowstone Trail detailing the historic route from Hudson to Kenosha, is available at the event. Like others along the trail, some businesses in Hudson named their establishments after the Yellowstone Trail and subsequent roadways in the hopes of attracting the new breed of auto tourists. was once called the Yellowstone Trail Buffet, the was called the Yellowstone Cafe, and was called Trail 12 after the numbering system was adopted. The U.S. Numbered Highway System began in 1926, and the Yellowstone Trail eventually became U.S. Highway 12.
A Yellowstone Trail-Era Road Sign
Local historian Lorraine Jacobs has an early gas station/directional sign, likely from the Yellowstone Trail era, that was given to her late husband Bob, by the late James “Eddie” Smith decades ago. Smith purchased a farm on U.S. Highway 12 and County Road A/UU where a tiny gas station along the Yellowstone Trail was located. Jacobs Lane, an early part of the Yellowstone Trail, was named for Bob's family who farmed the area.
“The gas station was really just a lean-to with a roof over the tank and pump with a shed for cars at what was known as ‘Batten Corner’ on U.S. 12,” Jacobs said. “It was a dangerous corner where there were many accidents.”
The 12-foot tall narrow wooden sign is painted with a red arrow on top and notes “9 miles to Roberts” on one side and “31 miles to Minneapolis” on the reverse. The sign is an advertisement for Litening gas, which was likely sold at the stop. Some information on Litening Gas Co. in Bozeman, MT, can be found on the message boards on the Primarily Petroliana website and a Montana Litening station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jacobs said she hopes to eventually donate the sign to a historical organization that will restore, preserve and display it.
“It would be interesting to research why the sign notes Minneapolis, and not St. Paul,” she said.
Yellowstone Trail Heritage Days highlights
Friday, May 13
6-8 p.m., Locust St. Car Show
Saturday, May 14
8:30-10:30 a.m., Historical geocaching, Dick’s Bar
10 a.m.-2 p.m., Car show, Old Toll Bridge Road/Beach House Lot
10 a.m.-2 p.m., Yellow rock painting, Associated Bank
10 a.m.-4 p.m., Casanova Cave tours, Nova Wine Bar
11 a.m.-2 p.m., Olde-Tyme Market Fair/strolling musicians/vintage high wheel bikes/carnival, Locust Street
11 a.m. & 1 p.m., Barry Prichard, author/grandson of Yellowstone Trail pioneer Michael Dowling, “We Blazed the Trail,” Hudson Library
Noon & 2 p.m., Cemetery & residential history tours
Noon-2 p.m., Afton-Hudson Lunch Cruise, Old Toll Bridge Road (tickets)
Noon-4:30 p.m., John and Alice Ridge, authors, “Introducing the Yellowstone Trail,” Octagon House
Noon-4:30 p.m., Octagon House tours/history booths
1 & 3 p.m., Downtown history walking tours
2 p.m., Classic Car Sociability Run, Beach House Lot to Hammond with special "retro" menu at the Hammond Hotel for participants
7:30 p.m., Fiddle Master Randy Sabien & his Fiddlehead Band, The Phipps Center for the Arts (tickets)
Sunday, May 15
Self-guided driving tours