Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Scenes along Minnesota State Highway 99 December 29, 2015

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Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 near Cleveland #2

 

MINNESOTA STATE HIGHWAY 99 rolls through farm country and small towns from northeast of Faribault to Nicollet.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 farmsite near Cleveland

 

I call it the back road to my native southwestern Minnesota. It’s the route my husband and I take to vary our travel or to avoid U.S. Highway 14 road construction and/or traffic between Mankato and Nicollet.

Usually we are in a hurry , which allows no time to explore. It is a sad fact of much travel these days. But even in haste, I notice details.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 bridge over MN River in St. Peter

 

When Randy mentioned that the Highway 99 bridge over the Minnesota River in St. Peter is due for replacement, I snapped a photo just as were about to cross it. I love bridges like this with architectural character. The 1931 steel truss bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and slated for rehab (not replacement) in 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation website.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 Swedish Imports sign in St. Peter

 

Waiting at a stoplight just across the bridge in the heart of downtown St. Peter, I turned my camera lens to a Swedish Imports sign, noting that we really must stop here sometime.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 Schmidt Meat Market sign in Nicollet

 

To the west of St. Peter in Nicollet, I photographed a sign for Schmidt’s Meat Market as we drove through town. The market has become a destination for many. We stopped there once. I popped inside, but quickly retreated to the car. Most people like the smokey smell of a meat market. I don’t. But that’s OK. We’re all different, with distinct tastes, likes and dislikes. That keeps the route through life varied and interesting.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Le Center November 10, 2015

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Driving northeast on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

Driving northeast on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

EVERY TIME I PASS through Le Center, I am in a hurry, on my way to somewhere else with no extra time.

Le Center, population 2,499 (not 2,500), is the county seat of Le Sueur County, a proper noun I find difficult to spell. The county is named after French Explorer Pierre Charles Le Sueur who visited the region in the 1700s while traveling the nearby St. Peter’s River, now known as the Minnesota River.

My view of this southern Minnesota community is usually peripheral, along State Highway 99. Winco on the north with “warehouse space available” bannered on the fence. The new Dollar General to the south. Then, a bit further, the municipal swimming pool, a diner advertising 99-cent burgers, service stations, the Le Sueur County Fairgrounds, the place that makes cheesecake… I always notice the NAPA store painted in the most hideous, yet distinguishable, blue. Off the highway, the grain elevator looms as a backdrop.

Beer Oil & Tire, not to be confuses with a business that sells beer in addition to oil and tires.

Beer Oil & Tire, not to be confused with a business that sells beer in addition to oil and tires.

The last two times I’ve been in Le Center, twice within a week, I convinced my husband to pull off the highway, also labeled as Derrynane. That name puzzles me for its oddity. But I was even more intrigued, entertained actually, by the signage on a local service station: Beer Oil & Tire. I read it as beer, oil and tire. You know how sometimes something strikes you as humorous but the person you are with doesn’t find the humor? I didn’t let that stop me from photographing this service station owned by a Beer.

The Legion does not limit its Steak Fry menu to steak. It also includes walleye, pork chops, shrimp, a full salad bar and kids' menu. The next Steak Fry is from 5 - 8 p.m. on November 28.

The Legion does not limit its Steak Fry menu to steak. It also includes walleye, pork chops, shrimp, a full salad bar and kids’ menu. The next Steak Fry is from 5 – 8 p.m. on November 28.

American Legion Post 108 recognizes the power of promotion by advertising its monthly Steak Fry on a portable sign parked along Minnesota State 99. Driving toward downtown, a sandwich board with the same info was planted smack dab in the middle of the street by the Legion. I still don’t understand the definition of “steak fry.” Are the steaks fried?

Le Center's muni welcomes deer hunters.

Le Center’s muni welcomes deer hunters.

Downtown, Le Center Municipal Liquors currently caters to deer hunters by offering Busch Light bottles for $3 during happy hour. I expect hunters will congregate at the muni with or without beer specials. But welcoming hunters with targeted signage seems a nice, and smart, thing to do.

What's behind buildings can also reveal a lot about a town.

What’s behind buildings can also reveal a lot about a town. This is downtown.

I noted a sign in a storefront window announcing the upcoming opening of a thrift store. That rates a return visit. I love small town thrift shops. Besides, I haven’t explored Le Center enough yet to fully understand its personality. I need to walk and poke around and duck into businesses.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling