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Highway 12 an original U.S. route holding strong as it approaches 100

It survives in the shadow of Interstate 94 all the way to the Mississippi, where it merges onto the Interstate to storm through the Twin Cities. It splits into Wayzata from 394 when it circled Orono on a new bypass and begins its cross-state journey through towns named after 19th-century railroad pioneers – Delano, Atwater, Willmar, Pennock, Kerkhoven – that made the state in Leaving Ortonville and soon becoming a town Finely divided highway to Aberdeen, SD, past sunflower fields to wide open country on the way to Hettinger and Bowman in the southwest corner of North Dakota.

Now follows the endless journey across mighty Montana, the last 69 miles to Missoula, paired with Interstate 90, then the remote mountain forests of eastern Idaho (“No services for the next 70 miles”), before heading into the “winding road in the next 99 miles ”descend to the Serpent River and Lewiston on the Washington border.

Angry!

After more than 2,000 miles, you are now ready to drive on the only east-west freeway that crosses the state. The 400-mile final leg ends when 12 collide with US 101 in a second Aberdeen, a town of 16,700 people on Grays Harbor in Washington. The city describes itself as the “gateway to the Olympic Peninsula” and the “birthplace of grunge rock”. When we came through town in 2014 after we came down 101, we noticed a Kurt Cobain memorial shop across from the little street sign that announced “End US 12” without further ado.

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The mostly rural two-lane bobs, weaving and snails through 10 states over a length of 2,484 miles.

This is an old freeway. It is one of the original national highways officially designated by traffic officials on November 11, 1926. (At that time, U.S. 12 ended up in Montana). The US 66 from Chicago was named on the same day. It was made famous by a novel (“Grapes of Wrath”), hit, and television drama of the 1960s. It ends near the beaches of Santa Monica, California, a glamorous ending compared to the Aberdeen docks.

In the 1920s, motorways outside of the big cities were mostly gravel. In Minnesota, the section of US Highway 12 between Litchfield and Willmar became the first rural paved section in 1929. By 1940, the entire Minnesota line – just under 200 miles from the Mississippi / St. Croix River to the South Dakota line – had been paved.

On both sides of Willmar there are remnants of the old street, which appear in their original or almost original state. These quiet streets serve home owners to this day.

From a historical point of view, it is fair that neither of them was topped black. The eastern segment is handy … well, put it this way: “Drive carefully.” There are some bumpy stretches that would make the Oregon Trail seem calm, and several “shell holes” large enough to hide an award-winning pumpkin.

Both pieces of the story involve a sharp curve – the east side of Willmar in Cloverleaf Cemetery

Looking east, the sign at Cloverleaf Cemetery on the eastern edge of Willmar shows the otherwise enjoyable ride bordering the double underground railroad tracks - the Great Northern - when that part of the highway was in its prime.  Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune Special

Looking east, the sign at Cloverleaf Cemetery on the eastern edge of Willmar shows the otherwise enjoyable ride bordering the double underground railroad tracks – the Great Northern – when that part of the highway was in its prime. Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune Special

and to the west near St. John’s Lutheran Church.

With grass growing to the edge of the concrete and fluffy green plants filling its cracks, the old US Highway 12 road is park-like, just a mile west of Willmar.  Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune Special

With grass growing to the edge of the concrete and fluffy green plants filling its cracks, the old US Highway 12 road is park-like, just a mile west of Willmar. Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune Special

Through the consultation of Plat Books with the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, it appears that these two elbows were bypassed by road construction in the early 1950s.

Highway 12 has as much overland muscle as Route 66, known as “Mother Road” and “Main Street of America”. While many national routes have been almost forgotten by the highways, 12 remains an important location for local and regional traffic. And Highway 12 can also claim its share of Americana: Historic Heritage Road (Michigan), Yellowstone Trail (Dakotas), Lewis & Clark Trail (Montana) and Wine Country Road (Washington).

Perhaps the salty old 12 just needs a catchy sentence to bolster its image in popular culture. Here are a number of milestones: The road west starts in the original home of Motown Records, not to mention Kid Rock, passes through Gary, where the Jackson 5 started, passes through the home of the Blues Brothers and the annual Chicago Blues Festival (though not this pandemic year) then there’s hometown Prince and it ends the epic march from the Great Lakes to the Sea not far from Kurt Cobain Memorial Park.

US. 12: “Route of Rock ‘n’ Blues” – take the “Main Street of America”.

Particularly noteworthy: US Highway 212 was created as an incentive for US 12 and broke off in St. Paul. Today, US Highway 212 extends from Edina to Yellowstone National Park, completely independent of its northern siblings.

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