Harkin Store examines old-time modes of transportation

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Dan Cochran displays his leather goods and the tools he uses to work them at a special program at the Harkin Store on Sunday.

NEW ULM — Old fashioned transportation was the topic of conversation at the Harkin Store, Sunday.

The historical general store located off Nicollet County Road 21 had information on covered wagons, horses and trains. The first people to settle in the Minnesota River valley near the Harkin Store arrive mostly by River Boat. The store was built near a landing.

In the early days, the river was the swiftest and most reliable method for traveling to western Minnesota. The covered wagon, sometimes was a slower and more perilous trip. The age of the river boat ended with the creation of the railroad.

The United States’ first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Canada created its own transcontinental railroad shortly after. Soon after, smaller lines would spur off and connect the small towns of the midwest.

According to information at the Harkin Store, New Ulm’s railroad and depot was completed by 1872. The line connected the city to Mankato, Winona and Chicago. A parade was held in 1872 from the depot to Turner Hall.

Despite the creation of new forms of transportation, the horse remained a popular form of transportation through most of the 1800s. In addition to transportation, horse teams were used for work, usually in the farm fields but also in the lumber industry.

The Harkin Store uncovered a curious episode that underscored the early Minnesota’s reliance on horses. In the fall of 1872, an epidemic of horse influenza spread throughout North America. The epidemic became known as the “The Great Epizootic.”

The disease started in Canada and spread south to Minnesota and caused flu symptoms in horses. Nearly every horse in St. Paul was affected. This was described as one of the first energy crisis in the United States. Many machines of the day literally ran on horsepower and without the animals, humans were forced to do a lot of work by hand. In the Twin Cities the fire brigade was forced to pull the water trucks through snow without the aid of horses.

Fortunately the mortality rate from the illness was low. Most horses that came down with the virus recovered, but the economic impact was devastating.

In addition to the historical displays, the Harkin Store invited Dan Cochran of Logos Leather Craft to demonstrate his leatherwork trade. Cochran regularly visits the Harkin Store as his work represents the era of store’s heyday and remains popular today.

Cochran has been working with leather for 20 years and swears by its versatility. His products include old fashioned items any cowboy needs. Some of the old style items he makes are finding new modern uses. A pair of cowboy cuffs, once used to protect a worker sleeves while working with barbed wired and branding irons, are now used by welders.

Cochran also makes new customized leather items. Special leather handles turn mason jar into cups. He even makes leather carrying cases for smart phones.

Next Sunday, the Harkin Store will be preparing for the winter with a program on canning, candle-making and stocking of food.