Blue Mounds, diesel, and The Corn Palace

dsc_2265.jpgNew Ulm was good for the weekend event celebrating Hermann but disappointing for the lack of German cars.  “Over 100″ were projected by one flyer we saw, and in reality eight showed up. Oh well.  We still got to eat bratwurst, listen to traditional music, and watch the battle reenactment. The local paper was headlined, “Romans Will Lose Today — Again.”

We also went back to a used bookstore in town where we’d bought a few books on Friday, and dropped off about a dozen books to free up some shelf space in the Airstream.  That gave us $21.50 in trade credit, and so of course we picked up another eight or ten books.

dsc_2310.jpgAs I promised myself, we are done withe killer long drives, so on Sunday it was a relatively short 130 miles to Blue Mounds State Park in the southwest corner of Minnesota.  Blue Mounds features a bison herd, which wasn’t in evidence when we visited, but our real destination was Pipestone National Monument about 20 miles north.  Eleanor and I visited this park a couple of years ago without Emma and we wanted her to experience it — and of course do the Junior Ranger program, which she did.

dsc_2327.jpgThe campground at Blue Mounds is very nice, although I never did find out what the Blue Mounds were.  For Sunday night entertainment we thought we’d visit the “historic downtown” of the nearby town of Luverne.  Unfortunately it’s one of those rather dead downtowns that are found everywhere in the midwest, and on Sunday night they roll up the sidewalks early.  Entertainment for the evening was limited to “burrito night” in the trailer and a Scooby Doo movie on DVD — and finding diesel fuel.

When we switched to diesel power I knew that we’d face a greater challenge in finding fuel.  That’s OK, because the extended range of the diesel more than makes up for the difference.   We can tow 380 miles, which is over 100 miles further than we could with the Armada. And not towing, our range is 600-650 miles!

What I didn’t know was how tricky fuel stations can make diesel.  There are two types of pumps, for cars and for big rigs.  The big-rig pumps are sometimes labeled “truck diesel” and sometimes the car pumps are labeled “auto diesel” but not always.  The problem here is that the big-rig pumps use a huge nozzle that won’t fit into the car, and which pumps fuel at such a tremendous rate of speed that using it would likely mean a backup in your filler and a giant mess.  When we go to the diesel pumps we have to hunt out the nozzles that will fit. Sometimes the nozzle on only one side is for autos, which can be hard to get to when we have the Airstream in tow

Then there’s the #1 and #2 trick.  This got us in Wausau. Diesel was advertised at $2.62 per gallon, but after I started filling I noticed I was actually getting charged $2.85 per gallon.  Why?  The left diesel pump was subtly labeled “#1″ and the right pump was labeled “#2″.  The #2 pump was the cheap one.  Surprise!  (Difference between #1 & #2 diesel.)

Using either fuel is not a problem as long as it is Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel (ULSD), and both were labeled as such.  Across Canada and the US the conversion to ULSD is complete, so this is not a problem anymore, but last I heard there were still stations in Mexico delivering the older formulation of Low Sulphur Diesel (LSD).

In Luverne we learned a new trick.  The station had two diesel pumps, one dispensing “B5″, which is code for fuel that is 5% biodiesel, 95% dinosaur diesel.  I was half-done filling with the B5 before I noticed the little sticker that identified my pump as the biodiesel pump (and 3 cents per gallon more expensive).  Fortunately, Mercedes has rated the engine for B5 fuel.  Still, I’m getting wary of diesel pumps.

This morning we hitched up for another 100 mile drive, this time to Mitchell, South Dakota.  There was some temptation to just plow through to Badlands National Park, which is our next major destination. But that would have been 340 miles of driving, through what turned out to be fairly poor weather.  We were facing a stiff headwind on I-90, which reduced our towing fuel economy to the worst we’ve ever seen with the GL320:  a lowly 11.5 MPG. At Mitchell we gave up and found a campground.  Instead of battling the weather, we’re going to park ourselves here for a couple of nights and work instead.  I’m finalizing articles for the Winter 2009 issue (due out in November), and Emma needs to get hustling on her fourth grade work.  By getting our work done in a couple of intense days, we can all go to Badlands and drop off the grid for a couple of days with clear consciences.

Mitchell is well known for two major attractions:  The Corn Palace, and Cabela’s.  We’ve actually spend a night at the Cabela’s in the past (it even has a dump station, which attracts RVs like flies), but never dropped in to find out what the heck a Corn Palace is.  Turns out it is a sort of civic center/auditorium that is annually re-decorated with murals made of 13 colors of corn on the cob.  It isn’t actually made of corn, which in this climate is definitely a good thing.  A fire at the Palace would be an interesting thing.  You bring the salt, I’ll bring the butter.

The nearby downtown of Mitchell is suffering the fate of so many others, but it is still alive for the moment.  It needs an injection of creativity and boldness if it is to survive. With the Corn Palace nearby, it at least has a chance. I see these places and I think of the differences between the ones that have deteriorated to nothing but trash and decaying buildings, and the ones that are still vibrant (like Burlington VT’s “Church Street Marketplace”), and I realize that often the key is somebody being entrepreneurial and aggressive.  When the old formula doesn’t work anymore, it’s time to invent a new one.  I hope somebody figures that out in Mitchell.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine