We have resided on Emerald Meadows Drive in Arnolds Park for 20 years. During the summer months, the weekend traffic on Highway 71 is atrocious.
Many times vehicles are backed up from the traffic light to the south down to The Hutt. We are able to turn north due to some courteous driver who will let us in the lineup. No way can we turn left, cross the northbound traffic to enter the southbound traffic lane. That being the case, we drive out on the Dam Road, skirt Lower Gar and proceed west to the traffic light stop sign. One time this summer we observed southbound traffic was lined up back as far as the Okoboji Summer Theatre with people attempting to get somewhere south. It was a bit of a drag for us going south but we could turn in at Dam Road easily.
The traffic on Highway 71 through Milford has always been steady even when I was a youngster. I recall when they paved the highway as my father operated a meat market on the east side of Main Street. In the butcher shop was a map of the United States. My father and Uncle Ray Nicol would put a check on each state when they observed the license plate from that state. I don’t remember if they checked all 48 states (at that time) but each year there were a lot of them. My first geography lesson was the map of the United States.
In the spring of 1936, the area was struck by a severe tornado. A headline in the May 7, 1936, Spirit Lake Beacon read, “Five dead, $2,500,000 property damage by tornado." Another said "2 killed, many injured, and half million dollar property damage in southwestern part Dickinson County about 4 p.m. Thursday."
From the same day's Milford Mail, “Tornado brings 50,000 curious people here from many counties and other states." The article said it was estimated that there were between 10,000 and 15,000 motor cars that Sunday, and some felt that was a conservative estimation.
"People who took airplane flights said the traffic pouring into this section appeared like black, and endless worms, slowly creeping towards a central spot,” the article said.
Milford was at the center of the throng of cars going west or north, and a huge traffic jam occurred at the intersection by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. My father, Ray LaFoy, was a policeman for the city of Milford. He stationed himself on the intersection attempting to keep the cars moving. I walked over and brought dad some pop to drink because he was very busy. It was May, and many cars still had alcohol in their radiators and, because of the stop and start, the cars became overheated. The fumes from the cars had an effect on dad breathing in all that alcohol because the next day he had a real “hangover.”
Prior to the Sunday traffic jam, I had accompanied my father to one of the farms several miles west of town. There were no buildings left, and dad was there to help the farmer. Dad’s job was to kill and even butcher injured hogs and cattle. I remember one poor cow with a fencepost driven through her stomach that dad had to kill. The force of that tornado was very evident. I picked up a board from the barn that had a stick of straw driven through the board. Wow! I am sure the gas stations had a good business but some ran out of gas before the end of the day. All in all the traffic was awesome!
The park has always been part of my childhood. During the summer months, it was the tradition in my family that soon after eating supper we would jump into the family car and drive to the park. The most sought parking place was directly across from the entrance to the Roof Garden but if that was taken any parking space just under the Roof Garden was okay. Sitting in the car, we could observe all the pedestrians going to and from the rides and concessions in the park. There was always traffic and, although it went both ways, it was slow and crowded — you only crept along.
I grew up in Milford and, being that Highway 71 went through town, there was always traffic. In those days very few of us had cars, so we hitchhiked. Many an evening I would walk over to the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church corner, stick out my thumb and catch a ride to the park. The same with coming home — stick out your thumb and get a ride back to Milford. There was always traffic.
For 25 years we lived in Mesa, Arizona, during the winter months. Driving in a large city is a lot different than in rural Iowa. Over the years we lived in Arizona they really improved the freeways. The one we really loved was building a freeway from Mesa to Scottsdale. For many of our early years, there was only a two-lane road from our communities. Time after time, either coming or going, there would be traffic jams on that stretch of road. Many times traffic was held up on the freeways because of an accident, and the same can be said for the interstate highways. Over the years we were involved with interstate highways being closed on down to one lane.
Driving in the United States, we drive on the right lane. When I was in the service in World War ll, I was stationed in India. India was controlled by England, and they drive in the left lane to go forward. It was a bit of a test to remember to drive in the left lane and, being as we had American vehicles, we were not quite in a great position. I drove an English truck once and had difficulty shifting gears. I was also stationed in China but most of the roads had only one lane, so no problem.
I will close this article with one story. When I was discharged from the military service in January of 1946, I arrived home by train at Spencer. Dad was there to greet me and after a wonderful meal at Stub’s Café in Spencer, we drove to Milford. Before we got into the car, dad asked me if I wanted to drive. I said yes, and proceeded to go around the block and proceed north. Everything went fine until I approached the divided highway. Without a thought, my driving in India kicked in and I took the left lane. My dad let out a noise and after I realized my error had to only drive one block to get on the right lane. I never did that maneuver again.
Traffic can be hectic at times, especially in the summer months here in the Lakes Area, but permanent residents of the area will sigh with relief that the traffic will be fine when the summer season has departed.