The 6-mile span of Cass County Road 17 from the Crow Wing County line west to Highway 1 is in a very visible state of reconstruction now.
While growing up, I remember hearing a lot about Grandpa and Grandma's first years of homesteading four miles west of town pre-1900. They arrived with four little ones, Grandma’s trunk holding all her possessions from Norway, and Grandpa with nothing but his clothes and a few hand tools, and very little money.
Grandpa hewed out logs with a broad ax for their little log cabin near the Mayo Creek bank on the south 40 of the homestead, then cleared the first acres by hand with saw and ax and pick and shovel.
At first, there was no road to town, only a walking path, then a trail for horses and oxen.
My grandparents faced a tough decision early on: whether their first major acquisition should be a horse or cow. There was not enough money for both. They opted to buy a cow so they would have milk for their little ones, so Grandpa cleared and planted their first tilled acres by hand.
Too make a little cash in the winter months, Grandpa hewed 8-foot tamarack railroad ties and carried them to town on his shoulders for the magnificent sum of 8 cents per tie. That was then.
Dad talked of his experience in building the road west of town during his teens and 20s, pre-World War I. He and neighbors hired out with teams of horses, pulling scrapers to move and shape dirt for the roadbed. In low and spongy areas they placed rough wood logs crosswise to stabilize the roadbed, then covered the logs with dirt and graded, all with their horse-drawn equipment.
For that they were paid a dollar a day. That was then.
Our road west of town was somewhat improved as I remember it as a kid in the 1940s.
If the county grader went over the surface when it was damp, it would scrape down and be relatively smooth for at least a few days. Then, as cars and trucks traveled over it for a week or so, it would revert to its more normal washboard status.
Every spring we could count on nearby frost heaves or boils, which caused some number of stuck vehicles.
After a number of Good Samaritan trips to pull out mired vehicles, Dad just left our tractor parked by the frost heave so the stuck motorists could “unstuck” themselves.
The biggest prior change to the road west of town occurred in the early 1950s, with curves instead of corners, widened roadbed, tapered ditches - all culminating in a bituminous surface.
As a third generation teenager, I got “easy” jobs of working with the survey crew, and later working as a gravel sampler and project road inspector at age 16 - for the big money of $1.10 an hour plus 10 cents per mile for my Model A Ford.
The present County Road 17 reaches a point that even stretches the sensibilities of us fair-haired liberal spendthrifts.
Huge construction equipment is now replacing the 45 mph curves of yesteryear with broad, sweeping curves and wide new pathway that is and will destroy hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful trees and farmland. This is now.
Carefully planted and nurtured Norway and white pines are gone and their stumps and branches are piled up to be burned. Carefully mowed lawns and ditches and decorated driveways are also gone.
The six-mile stretch will be safer and more convenient for future motorists, but the expense will be great in dollars for construction and greater in access and land and trees and lawns of those most affected.