Along the Wheat Trail
A bus load of history buffs bumped along dirt roads and cruised down county highways in search of the Wheat Trail Saturday.
Wagons and sleighs once traveled down the Wheat Trail to deliver the harvest from rich prairies by Shell City to the trains in Verndale and Wadena. Shell City is now abandoned and most of the trail has disappeared, but locals remain intrigued by the arduous journey to transport the wealth of wheat.
Clarence Horsager, John Crandall, Mary Harrison, Richard Paper and Joe Graba served as guides and historians during the six-hour tour sponsored by the Verndale and Wadena County historical societies.
"Get your mind set on taking a 46-mile trek only by horse or by oxen to the Shell Prairies," Horsager told passengers to imagine as they left Verndale. "That's quite a jaunt as you can well imagine."
Several stops along the way allowed people to explore the trail 19th century farmers had to travel using less comfortable modes than a tour bus.
Horsager led a tour of the section of Wheat Trail preserved on his Verndale farm. Another stop included a visit to where the Wheat Trail crossed the Red Eye River. The property has portions of both the Verndale and Wadena branches of the Wheat Trail. Pete Nielson of Sebeka showed where the trail crossed his property. Joe Graba talked about his great-grandfather, Henry Jacob Graba, who built a half-way house that was an important location for Wheat Trail travelers. The tour also included a stop where travelers once forded the Shell River to get to Shell City.
Horsager explained the importance of the Wheat Trail to towns in Wadena County.
"I don't believe Verndale would have been in existence if it hadn't been for wheat," he said.
Wheat was a cash crop when the barter economy was the norm in this area, according to Paper, WCHS board chairman.
The wheat boom began in 1878 when several families first made their way up north to the Shell Prairies, Horsager said.
As far as he can figure the Wheat Trail the tour was following was cut in November 1879 from Verndale to Shell City, said Crandall who has written a history of Shell City, "Silhouettes of Time." The trail was in full operation by April 1880. Wadena built its own trail in December 1879 following the Red River Ox Cart Trail with the first wheat coming in November 1880.
The Wheat Trail began to lose its importance when the railroad came through Wadena and Park Rapids in 1891. Everything moved west to Sebeka and Menahga, Crandall said.
"[The] Wheat Trail was killed out," he said. "[There was] no further need for it because they brought everything to the railroad lines."
Shell City died out around 1892-1895, Crandall said. The town once had about 85 people residing in it. From the tour bus Crandall pointed out markers indicating where buildings such as a school and mercantile once stood.
The bus tour through history ended with a trip back to Verndale.
Paper said the tour organizers and contributing historians learned a lot when they ran the tour six years ago.
"We ran the tour again and we've acquired knowledge that we didn't have that time," he added. "[It's] part of our historical