In the early days of commercial radio in the 1930s, British explorer and travel writer Carveth Wells (1887-1957) gave talks about traveling to various US states in a weekly radio program called “Exploring America with Conoco and Carveth Wells,” sponsored by the Continental Oil Company (Conoco) and broadcast over 26 stations on the NBC Radio Network, to encourage traveling by car, and purchasing gasoline and oil at Conoco stations along the way. Mentions of the sponsor were sprinkled throughout the talks. Conoco offered transcripts of the talks free to the public through its own Travel Bureau.
Below is a reprint of the transcript of the program Carveth Wells gave about travel to Minnesota. No actual date of the original broadcast was given, but it is copyrighted 1932 by Continental Oil Company of Ponca City, Oklahoma. This reproduction is for historical purposes only and no infringement is intended.
Some of the lakes are so huge that they are better named inland seas. Red Lake, in the northern part of the state, is said to be the largest body of fresh water, wholly within one state. Or take Vermillion Lake, above the Mesabi Iron Range. This lovely lake, almost entirely surrounded by virgin forest, contains no less than three hundred and sixty-five islands—one for each day of the year. And, as you might expect, on one of the islands is the summer home of the head of the Isaak Walton League of America.
But, talking of islands, think of Lake of the Woods, way up on the Canadian Border, with fourteen thousand islands. But I guess the census taker got too tired to count her rivers, because there are probably more rivers and streams in Minnesota than lakes, including the Mississippi, the Father of the Waters, whose head waters are in Lake Itaska, about 2,500 miles from the mouth.
In fact, Minnesota might well be called the Mother of Waters. She not only contains the source of the Mississippi, but also the source of the Red River, which winds its way to Hudson Bay. And then there is the great St. Louis River, which flows into Lake Superior and way on through the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic.
But don’t run away with the idea that Minnesota is Venice on a grand scale. No, indeed! You don’t need a gondola to see this wonderful summer playground, because there are plenty of good solid concrete and macadam highways, and your car can carry you from place to place in the greatest comfort.
By the way, Minnesota contains probably the most famous highway in the world, although Sinclair Lewis called it “Main Street.” Don’t think for a minute that Main Street made Minnesota mad. Not at all. Sauk Centre, on U.S. 10 from Minneapolis, which was the home and birthplace of that famous novelist, is visited by thousands, who want to see the little town that enabled a Minnesotan to win the Noble Prize, The state claims Sinclair Lewis as one of its most distinguished men.
Here is a state that boasts 7,000 miles of magnificent highways, where you seldom have to stop for a grade crossing; where you roll along through prosperous farming villages and great modern cities; where wheat and barley fields alternate with beautiful hills.
Many of these roads follow the old trails that were used in the settlement of the great Northwest. This summer, as you follow either U.S. 10 or State Highway 3, you should realize that you are closely following the old Red River trail of the early days, and that it is only about 75 years since those same roads heard the music of the squeaking, ungreased ox-carts that traveled in trains of 50 or even 150 carts, escorted by soldiers to protect them from Indians, particularly the Sioux.
As late as 1862, which was four years after Minnesota was admitted to the Union, the Sioux massacred over 700 settlers; and if you happen to be motoring through the thriving city of Mankato, you will be shown the spot, which is now the very heart of the business section, where 38 Indians were executed for their part in the massacre. Three hundred Indians were originally condemned to death, but all except 39 were pardoned by Abraham Lincoln, and the odd man died before the time of execution.
Times changed rapidly; numerous treaties were signed with the Indians; immigration was stimulated, and today, Minnesota has a population of over two and a half million people; and they’re not all broke by any means!
Only a few weeks ago I heard of a German farmer not so very far from the city of St. Cloud, who bought his neighbor’s quarter section for $16,000.00 in cash. But listen to this: On the day appointed for the execution and delivery of the title deeds, this farmer drove up to one of the local banks with his wife, in the usual old dilapidated “Tin Lizzie” of ancient vintage, and carried into the bank a battered old milk can, which he rolled into the directors’ room in the rear of the bank. After signing the deed, he removed the cover of the can and began pulling out packages of currency, counting it out carefully until he had $12,000.00. He was $4,000.00 short, and just as he was collapsing with grief at his loss, his wife turned to him and said, “Good Gracious, Otto, we brought the wrong can!”
This story of Otto and his can is one of the reasons they call Minnesota the Bread and Butter State, because it is first in flour and first in butter, a tribute to her industrious and efficient farmers.
But let’s fill up our can with CONOCO gas and start exploring this land of Sky Blue Water. First, let’s cross Old Man River from the Wisconsin side and enter Winona, the town that takes its name from the first born daughter of a famous Indian chief, who wanted Winona to marry a man she strongly objected to. (Some fathers are still like that.) But Winona wasn’t having any, and one day while her father was in council with his braves on the shore of Lake Pepin, Winona climbed to the top of the bluff, sang the death song of her tribe, and jumped into the lake below. Nowadays few girls are quite so romantic.
From Winona, follow Route 7 to Rochester and make a point of seeing the most famous clinic in the world—the Mayo Clinic, where some of the greatest strides in the history of medicine have been made. Then keep on Route 7 to Owatonna and then Route 1 to Northfield, the home of Ole Rolvaag, author of “Giants in the Earth.” Pay a visit to St. Olaf’s College, and if you are lucky enough, hear the famous St. Olaf’s Choir.
Then fill your lungs with cool, clean air and follow on to St. Paul, which, together with its big twin, Minneapolis, just across the river, is probably the largest industrial center in the Northwest. Who would have dreamed that the words of Jonathan Carver, who was one of the first explorers to visit the site of St. Paul, would come so true? Jonathan Carver wrote in his diary the following words: “Stately palaces, and solemn temples with gilded spires reaching to the skies, will take the place of these crude Indian huts, whose only decorations are the barbarous trophies of their vanquished enemies.”
Carver was a prophet; his temples that were to reach to the skies are our modern skyscrapers; his palaces are beautiful state buildings, magnificent modern hotels, and the fine residences of the present people.
St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota, and the capitol building, embellished with works of art by some of America’s most noted painters, sculptors and decorators, is well worth seeing. It commands a grand view of the entire city, and was designed by Cass Gilbert, who was also responsible for the good old Woolworth Building in New York.
St. Paul is one of the great markets for raw fur. But what interested me more than fur was the fact that St. Paul leads the country in the production of mushrooms. They grow them in the great caves that honeycomb the bluffs on the riverside.
There is an atmosphere of power in St. Paul. The Mississippi teems with steamers and barges; there are great power plants and factories, but in spite of her industrial activity, St. Paul has not neglected to construct an elaborate system of boulevards that encircle the city and lead to her 55 beautifully kept parks.
They’ll tell you in St. Paul that you can motor over marvelous roads to 30 lakes in 30 minutes, but just for variety, drive over Marshall Avenue bridge to Minneapolis. Get out your CONOCO map and notice how Minneapolis is the center of the state’s great system of trunk highways. Minneapolis still throbs with the pioneering spirit of the West.
Originally she was called St. Anthony, after the falls of that name. You explorers, who like neither the Arctic nor the tropics, will be delighted to know that Minneapolis is exactly half way between the North Pole and the Equator, so that you don’t have to mush along behind dog sledges, or tramp in Indian file through a jungle, watching out for snakes. We always walked in Indian file in the Malay jungle, but I used to have a man walking in front of me so that if anyone got bitten, he did!
Minneapolis has no less than six large lakes and 140 parks, all within the city limits, and linked together by splendid boulevards. In fact, one of the most impressive thoroughfares I have ever seen, is the Victory Memorial Drive, three miles long and 200 feet wide, lined with four rows of Cathedral elms.
Go and see Minnehaha Falls, laughing and leaping into the valley. The water comes from Lake Minnetonka, and just before it reaches Old Man River, it plunges down 50 feet. These are the falls that inspired Longfellow in his famous poem, “Hiawatha,” or should I have said “Hyawatha,” and did you know that Longfellow never even saw the falls themselves, but only a photograph?
Close by Minneapolis is Lake Minnetonka. Of course, you know the song. But we’ve lots to see, so keep on Route 1 and travel north to Duluth. After a marvelous drive through rich farm lands, around beautiful lakes, across rushing rivers, where the fish jump out of the water and almost say “Cheerio” as you pass by.
Did you realize that Duluth, so far away from the Atlantic, is second only to New York in tonnage handled by her shipping? But like other cities in the state, Duluth has made every effort to preserve the natural beauty of her location.
Drive up Hillside Boulevard, park your car, and gaze away for 40 to 50 miles, or sometimes even 60 miles and see the distant Apostle Islands. If you want a thrill, then just take the inclined railway at Seventh Avenue west and rise up 500 feet in eight city blocks; then enjoy the view of the splendid harbor, full of whalebacks and great ships. But don’t forget that Duluth is the gateway to one of the most beautiful regions in the United States, the Minnesota Arrowhead country, a sportsman’s paradise.
On your way, take a spin to the city of Hibbing, in the great Mesabi Range, from which comes most of the world’s supply of iron ore. There you will see the largest open pit mine in the world, so immense and impressive that it has even been compared to the Grand Canyon of Colorado. That may seem almost an exaggeration, but you must see this enormous man-made chasm, two and a half miles long, and about a mile wide, from which as much material has been excavated as from the Panama Canal. They say that if all the iron ore that has been shipped from the Hibbing district since 1895 had been made into 100-pound rails, they would be sufficient to run 29 railroad tracks entirely around the world at the Equator.
The lovely Arrowhead country of Minnesota is larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined. And what a place for healthy out-of-door life. You can actually breakfast beside a river that runs into the Gulf of Mexico; have lunch by another that flows into the Atlantic, and pitch your camp in the evening beside waters that run into Hudson Bay and the Arctic.
This great region has some of the wildest and most beautiful woodland scenery in America. Thousands and thousands of acres of forest land have been set apart by the government as a game reserve. And don’t forget that there are good roads leading off to lakes and rivers in every direction. But here’s a chance to go back to the simple life. Why not take a small tent with you, and spend a delightful holiday in the district around Ely. You’ll find that town on a CONOCO map, at the end of Route 35.
By Jove! I wish I could get away from civilization this summer; pack up all my earthly possessions in my car and make for the Land of Sky Blue Waters; make my own camp; hire a canoe, and, after long days in the open air, go to sleep under the stars. But I feel like some more music. So, after the CONOCO orchestra has played for us again, I’ll delve into the very intelligent and interesting questions which my radio listeners have sent me. You know, I welcome your questions, and always answer some of them on every CONOCO broadcast.
QUESTION AND ANSWER PERIOD
Well, here we are again with the CONOCO question and answer period. I received a very nice letter from a young lady in Aurora, Ill., asking me if she has missed my broadcast on the Carlsbad Caverns and whether she can secure copies of my broadcasts for use in her work as a teacher in a Junior High School. I intend to deal with Carlsbad Caverns later in the series, and I am happy to inform you that copies of this broadcast and of all my other broadcasts can be obtained, free of charge, simply by writing to the CONOCO Travel Bureau at Denver, Colorado; and in case you missed the other CONOCO programs, let me tell you that this is the eleventh.
Here is a letter from the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Tombstone, Arizona, correcting my pronunciation of the name Chiricauhau—C H I R I C A H U A. Believe it or not, that name of five syllables is pronounced Cherrycow. Can you blame me? Incidentally, Tombstone is on the Broadway of America. It has a famous old theater called The Bird Cage Theatre, and a graveyard containing the graves of nearly 200 people, most of whom died with their boots on. That happens to be one of my own ambitions.
FROM THE TRANSCRIPT:
WE ARE pleased to present herewith one of the radio talks of Carveth Wells, noted explorer and adventurer, as broadcast under auspices of the Continental Oil Company.
During each thirty-minute period, Mr. Wells uses about twenty minutes, devoting fifteen minutes to a descriptive talk on some state or locality in America. The remainder is a question and answer period.
Obviously, Mr. Wells could not, in so short a period, cover everything of interest in a given state or area, and so has utilized what is apparently of the greatest general interest to millions of radio listeners, many of whom use the information contained in the talks in planning motor tours.
In reading these reprints of Mr. Wells’ talks, we hope you will bear this in mind, remembering that we, as well as Mr. Wells, welcome comment, questions and suggestions, to the end that “Exploring America with Conoco and Carveth Wells” will provide the kind of program the greatest number of listeners prefer.
CONOCO TRAVEL BUREAU
HELLO, EVERYBODY! This is Carveth Wells speaking. One of the greatest charms about Scenic America is the amazing variety of her scenery. Those of you who have already explored America by motor car, realize the fact that the United States really does contain a greater proportion of the wonders of the world than any other country. What an extraordinary difference there is between Arizona and Virginia, for instance. Yet it is very difficult to say which is the most beautiful. Some of you like majestic mountains; others prefer pastoral scenes; while others delight in placid lakes.
Since we started on our travels with CONOCO, we have had a taste of almost every kind of scenery. But today we are off to the Land of the Sky Blue Waters—to Minnesota. Some people call Minnesota the Bread and Butter State—a very appropriate title, indeed, but personally, I like to think of her as the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes—lakes of sky blue water which still taste of the great glaciers that made them in days gone by.
Actually, there are over eleven thousand lakes, not counting mud puddles. Lakes in which you can swim and fish; where moose wade the shores, and where Indians still paddle their birch bark canoes.
CARVETH WELLS, who talks exclusively on the weekly Conoco Radio Programs, has seen and done so many extraordinary things that when he tells about them over the air many listeners doubt him. Wells’ knack as a teller of tall tails has earned him the title of “radio’s truthful liar.” He has, for instance, seen fish climb trees, shivered in a snowstorm on the African equator, had his hair playfully pulled by a real jungle lion, and spent a hot summer in Arctic Lapland.
Wells has traveled in central equatorial Africa, Morocco, Palestine, Egypt, many European countries, Canada, and the United States, and spent six years in the jungles of Malay. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and a member of the National Geographic Society and Explorers Club. Mr. Wells is the author of a number of intensely interesting books that have a wide sale. Among them are ADVENTURE, just off the press with the first edition sold out and a second going rapidly. Six Years in the Malay Jungle, In Coldest Africa, Let’s Do the Mediterranean, The Jungle Man and His Animals, and Field Engineer’s Handbook.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
I received a telegram from another Chamber of Commerce secretary. This time it was from the city of Lyons, in the state of Kansas, drawing my attention to the fact that the proper location of the ancient city of Quivira is in Rice County, and that the remains of no less than 20 villages have been discovered in the neighborhood of Lyons. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, not only for correcting me, but also for the nice things you said about our CONOCO program. And now, you explorers who may be motoring through Kansas this summer, be sure and visit the Quiviran Indian Museum in the Court House of Lyons on highway U.S. 50.
Here is a letter from Lafayette, Colorado, asking me to tell the name of the basket that is used by American Indian women as a baby carriage. I called up the Field Museum and they explained that every different tribe has a different name and that Papoose Cradle was the usual name. But I’m going to send you a list of as many Indian names for the word cradle as I can find.
Here’s a letter asking me if I can explain how the sand dunes near Alamosa, Colorado, were formed, and whether the Indian Legend that they were formed in 48 hours could be correct. That depends on the size of the dunes. Sand dunes are formed by wind action, and it might be possible, if those dunes are not too large for the legend to be true, but in any case, they were formed by wind. One well-known case of wind action in the formation of hills is Bermuda, those lovely islands in the Atlantic which are covered with small hills that were originally sand dunes, but which have now solidified into so-called coral rock. Incidentally, the foundation of Bermuda is a submarine volcano, extinct, of course, at least I hope so.
Here’s a suggestion for a motor trip for your vacation this summer. Why not drive to Los Angeles and see the famous Olympic Games? Usually, you know, they’re held in Europe, but the 1932 Olympic Games are to be staged in Los Angeles, where a warm welcome awaits you. Drive out there and enjoy beautiful and historic scenery all the way. And, with CONOCO road maps and a CONOCO Passport, the journey will be easy. Do you know how to get these? Just write to the CONOCO Travel Bureau in Denver, Colorado, and individually marked road maps, travel information, data about hotels, camps and resorts will be sent to you, at no cost to you whatever.
The CONOCO Passport, which you will receive, will prove a friend in need, and a friend indeed, in your motor trip, for it introduces you to all CONOCO service stations. Just drop a card now, to the CONOCO—C O N O C O—Travel Bureau, Denver, Colorado. Remember that I, myself, like to hear from you personally with any questions you care to ask me. Just address you communications to the CONOCO Travel Bureau in Denver, Colorado. Cheerio!
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A radio talk by Carveth Wells (1932)