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Column: Life is a highway, and we're all rolling on rivers

WORTHINGTON -- When they were first condemning land and moving in machines to put Interstate 90 in place across southwest Minnesota, a couple of officials from Washington and St. Paul reminded local audiences that whether the focus is on Minneapolis/St. Paul or St. Louis or Kansas City or Omaha, when pioneers began to settle the interior of our land they laid out communities along rivers. "These interstate highways are America's new rivers," the officials told us. "The interstate highways are rivers of commerce in our time."

They were right. In a time gone by, I found a place where I could view traffic on I-90. There is a ceaseless flow of vehicles of every description rolling east and rolling west. There are semi-trucks of many colors, some of which bear famous company names in bold designs and some that give no hint of their cargos. There are flatbed trucks bearing machines and machinery that test the imagination. I am certain by now the cargos rolling past Worthington on a June afternoon match the cargos that flow past Memphis, maybe even New Orleans. I-90 is a great river.

Lately, I found another perch on Clinton Avenue where I can look down on the men and machines shaping the round-abouts and traffic lanes on Highways 59-60 on Worthington's east side. Another river in the making. With a couple of short exceptions, traffic soon will flow on four lanes from the Twin Cities to Kansas City and on to the West Coast. Indeed, we could call our town River City.

One of these columns reflected lately that the population of Worthington increased 350 percent between 1930 and 2010 (from 3,878 to 12,764). Worthington is a city transformed. The same can be said for Jackson or Luverne or Windom -- we can't even guess what our towns would be today without these rivers of commerce flowing by us.

I chuckle now and again. After a report on the April ice storm Randy Shaver on KARE 11 felt it necessary to inform Minnesotans, "Worthington is in southwest Minnesota." They don't know. The Star Tribune recently dropped Worthington into southeast Minnesota in a story in its print edition. They corrected this in the online edition. Well -- residents of the metro area look north to Brainerd and Bemidji and Ely, to the northern resorts and the lake cabins. They don't make many jaunts to the south and west.

Politicians know where to find us. I was impressed that Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Mark Dayton all found their way to Worthington and Luverne on the Saturday morning after that ice storm. The state media reporters still are a bit uncertain of southwest or southeast, but those who bid for votes know the way.

Life goes on. With the hundreds of truck loads of branches hauled away, with the trees in leaf, our towns look quite normal once again. If you pulled to a curbside and looked at trees ahead you might wonder if they were tended by a city forester or a butcher, but who pulls to a curbside and looks at trees ahead?

While I was looking at the work in progress on the "second river" -- the 59-60 development -- my attention was called to action on the third river. My, there is a lot going on in that Union Pacific rail yard on a summer morning. There may be more freight traffic by volume at least than there ever has been. The UP's switch engines are pulling long lines of tank cars with ethanol and biodiesel fuel from Heron Lake and Brewster. Oh -- long lines. It is hard to believe the quantity of fuel that is turned out in Nobles County and Jackson County in a single day. And now Rock County -- Luverne -- is in the business of producing isobutanol.

We need to keep an eye on developments along our rivers. It is not clear exactly how much commerce they are generating, but the restaurants and the hotels/motels lining Humiston Avenue from north of I-90 to Oxford Street are a clue. As that representative of Casey's General Stores said when the company announced its third filling station/convenience store at Worthington, there is a lot shaping. It is an exciting time.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.