Today was a very easy 73 mile ride on nearly flat roads from Chamberlain to Mitchell. We turned east from the Missouri and left the river and bluffs behind early in the ride. The weather was a pleasant 69 degrees at the start, but before we were done is was 98. Fortunately, got most of the ride in before it got hot. It was a fun day with things to do along the way.
Our first stop was the South Dakota Tractor Museum in Kimball. They had a great collection of tractors dating back to the 30s and before. The machines were “cute:” They looked toy like or like they had “faces” that were smiling and could almost talk. The gentleman manning the visitor center was charming and delighted to open up early for us to see the tractors inside. He used an old corn shucking implement to show us how well it worked. His enthusiasm for it all was touching. Also on display were farm implements that were horse drawn in their day…one row planters that could plant 8 acres a day if the horse didn’t conk out (thinking of War Horse when I saw it). Today’s modern equipment is big, some pieces as big as a tandem truck, e.g., and looks like it could plant 8 acres in an hour. The museum also included a preserved one room schoolhouse that gave a sense of what it must have been like to go to such a school in the lonely prairies of South Dakota.
Our destination today was “a-maize-ing” Mitchell, SD…a corn crazy town (its radio call letters are KORN), and home to the world’s one-and-only Corn Palace. The citizens of Mitchell built the first Corn Palace in 1892 when some of the early settlers decided to put their harvest on, rather than in, the concrete reinforced building with its dome and turrets. The palace was a huge draw, and the hope was for Mitchell to become significant enough to be state capital (ultimately lost to Pierre). Nonetheless, every spring (except during Great Depression and dust bowl era), local residents are contracted to redecorate the exterior of the building with with over 275,000 ears of native South Dakota corn along with native grain and grasses arranged into large murals. Each color of corn (and they use 12 different color varieties) is grown in separate fields so it won’t cross-pollinate. The designs are changed every year–this year was “Saluting Youth Activities.”
What was fun about the Corn Palace is seeing how one concept/one building could be so important to the history of a town. It’s a tourist draw, it’s a huge auditorium for touring celebrities, it’s a sports arena for the various teams, and it’s the locus of Corn Palace Week, the high water mark of Mitchell’s yearly calendar. As a sports arena, it is often referred to as the “Boston Garden of the Midwest.” Corn Palace Week marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of planning for next year’s Palace theme. After Corn Palace Week ends and winter sets in, local pigeons, squirrels, and birds make a feast of the murals….until the cycle is repeated the following year.