Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, May 14, 2001

Mules, men did first paving job more than 70 years ago for Hwy. 12

By Lynda Jensen

Construction season is officially open, as contractors start the Highway 12 reconstruction process in the area today.

The crews will be repaving, adding turn lanes, replacing water utilities, and performing other related work to the highway.

Few may remember the same scenario exactly 71 years ago this week, when paver crews converged on Howard Lake and Waverly to install the very first paving ever of Highway 12, which was freshly graded two years before as a new highway.

Towed through mud every spring

In those days, a horse and buggy was a common sight, with roads made of gravel, or plain dirt trails, that dissolved into mud during the spring, making roads impassable by auto.

Automobiles that got stuck in mud were regularly towed by a team of horses through poor roads by highway maintenance crews, until the commissioner of highways ordered this practice stopped in 1927, as documented by the Howard Lake Herald at the time:

"Whenever any stretch of road goes to pieces, signs will be posted IMPASSIBLE and use of the road will be stopped until the road is dry. Signed - the commissioner of highways. March 8, 1928."

How Highway 12 came to be

The Highway 12 corridor first made its appearance when state grader crews showed up with gravel in 1928.

Previously, the towns of Howard Lake and Waverly bemoaned the ineffectiveness of grading and graveling, as shown by the following article in the Herald, April 7, 1927:


Many surfaced highways are now plain dirt roads - resurfacing value questioned.

"Lost, several hundred miles of good gravel road, $10,000 reward offered for its return."

This want ad will not appear in the columns of the Herald. The Minnesota Highway Department admits that many miles of road are lost, but this seems to be an exception to the rule that "it pays to advertise" as there is little hope that anyone will find the lost gravel.

Just how many miles of gravel roads have been "sunk in the mud" during the last three of four weeks will not be known until the spring break up is over, when the department proposes to make a survey to determined where the money available for regraveling shall be placed.

At the end of 1926, we had 833 miles of paved road, 229 bituminous treated, 4,151 heavy gravel, 1,043 light gravel and 674 earth and sand clay, said commissioner of Highways C.M. Babcock. "It is quite apparent that these figures will be revised after the spring break up, and greatly reduced."

The road from Howard Lake to Winsted, from the cemetery to the McLeod County line (Wright County Road 6), was graveled for the first time, the year before this.

"This road has been in terrible shape, especially during the rainy season this fall," said County Commissioner A.P. Moody, in the Oct. 14, 1926 issue of the Herald.

Contractors from Cokato worked for 10 days in 1926 to put 5,000 feet of gravel, hauled from a local farm, on County Road 6.

Cars whizzing by

State officials watched growing use of the automobile on trunk highways in 1926, clocking one car every 70 seconds, and counting 52 going by per hour.

A car whizzing by every 70 seconds, 51 or 52 every hour, from 6 a.m. to midnight, is what the checkers who took the traffic census on the Minnesota trunk highways this year had to count, reported the Herald.

The Hwy. 12 route locked into position

The present-day location of Highway 12 was locked in by the state highway department when it determined that traffic deemed grading and graveling necessary in December 1927.

The site chosen?

Highway number 10 - as Highway 12 was called at that time -was chosen as the thoroughfare through Waverly and Howard Lake, following the Great Northern Tracks, on the south side of Waverly to Howard Lake.

This is documented in the Dec. 22, 1927 issue of the Herald:

"Word was received from the state highway department last week to the effect that the new route of No. 10 will run on the present location along Pacific Avenue (Waverly) through the village and then on west to hoard Lake on the south side of the railway tracks. This is surely good news for Graham and other farmers along the route who would have had their farms cut in two, had the department decided to run the road where the first survey was made, south of the route selected."

A petition was presented by farmers to the state department, urging it to choose the present location in order to keep farmlands intact, the Herald reported.

Mules and men

Grading crews from South Dakota showed up April 5, 1928 to start work on the highway with 100 mules, several horses, dump wagons, 100 men, tractors, and grading machines.

The crews set up camp at the Morgan farm one mile east of town, although they ended up waiting three weeks as snow and early spring rain stalled progress. The contract called for 304,000 cubic feet of excavation.

The new road bed - 40 feet wide - was completed that fall.

Parallel parking, a new concept with the onset of automobiles, was instituted on "George Street," or Highway 12 today.

The Howard Lake City Council agreed to institute parallel parking immediately upon choosing its new site, since it was such a narrow corridor and posed a danger to everyone involved, otherwise.

The location of the highway eliminated a railroad crossing south of Howard Lake and also the under grade crossing at Waverly where the highway department would have to put in a new bridge, reported the Herald in its April 21, 1927 issue.

The onset of paving

Paving was a luxury during this time in history.

Highway 12 was paved from the Twin Cities, ending in Wayzata, and intermittently after, offering paved sections off and on, going west.

With traffic surveys showing the increased use of cars, the state department deemed it appropriate to pave the Highway 12 corridor further west, as reported in the Aug. 2, 1927 issue of the Herald:

Traffic in Minnesota is the heaviest on the highways within a radius of 100 miles of the Twin Cities. Aside from the highways mentioned above, Highway No. 10 (modern day Hwy. 12), or the Glacier Trail from the Twin Cities has the most traffic. This highway has considerable paving.

It is paved from the Twin Cities to Wayzata. For a number of years, it has been paved through Kandiyohi County, from Atwater to Pennock. This summer the Kandiyohi paving has connected with a fine stretch of paving from Litchfield to Atwater.

In order to give it continuous paving from the Twin Cities west, for more than 100 miles, is to connect the paving at Wayzata with that at Litchfield and this would be the (state's) next paving job. Towns along this route should organize and do everything possible to have it paved."

Paving crews arrived May 15, 1930 to work on Highway 12, but were hampered by spring rains for a week.

During the summer three crews finished one-quarter mile of road per day each, doing paving exclusively at a fairly good clip.

Modern day readers should be reminded of the construction work being done now, compared to then. The work in 1930 did not include utilities located under the roads (which takes up the bulk of the city budgets for the current project), highway light poles, fiber optic cables, telephone poles, curb and gutters, and any number of other utility work.

Construction contractors in 1930 were persuaded to rip up the road after the Fourth of July celebration in Howard Lake (which was usually well attended), much the same as modern day contractors for the Minnesota Department of Transportation were persuaded to wait until after Good Neighbor Days to do the same.

Weather also posed the same problem for construction in 1930, since rain caused problems - at Spring Lake the roadbed was soft and many of the heavily loaded trucks became stuck, with one down to its box in mud.

The newly paved Highway 12 was open for traffic Oct. 2, 1930, with stop signs erected on side streets to make it a "through" highway, as ordered by the state commissioner of highways.

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