South Main Street in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, had deteriorated into a tree-lined cattle path. My preferred modes of transport are a three-quarter-ton pickup and a mountain bike, so it didn’t bother me much. But when the Prius’ and mini-vans started to bottom out and we lost a Smart Car in a sink hole, it was time to repave.
To make room for parking and bike lanes, and to secure state funding, it was dictated the trees along the boulevard had to come down. Smartly-dressed, persuasive, and articulate, Charlie Roy and the whole town rallied, but the government won. Today, Main Street looks like Barneveld, Wisconsin after the ’84 tornado.
We can take some solace. Walter Cnare was an arborist for the city. He said if the Stihls hadn’t gotten the Ash trees, the Emerald Borer would have.
For two years, crews worked on replacing the underground utilities in increments.
Early spring of 2019, the barricades came up and the A-1 Excavating army rolled in from the North. The boys from Bloomer had a dozen Cat, Case, and John Deer ‘hoes, ‘dozers, and end loaders hauled in by a fleet of lowboys. Some still had plastic on the seats and paint on the buckets.
Not for long.
The Lakers Athletic Club has anchored the one hundred block of South Main Street for over thirty years. For most of that time, three days a week I’d idle down the hardwood-lined main drag waving at the dog walkers and marveling at the seasons, en route to my workout. When the construction gates closed, I redirected to the Woodland Beach-Ferry Road back-door route. It upped my eighteen-minute commute to twenty-one, and doubled the stop signs, but I was able to watch the daily progress on a couple of waterfront mansions under construction and wave at Diane Alward being walked by her German Shepherd pup, Quinn.
Stage 1 of deconstruction took place just outside the glass door. I get to the club by quarter-to-six. Sources reported the crew would do last call at Sporty’s Saloon or TT’s Tavern, but by the time I was done with crunches and sit-ups, the guys were oilin’, greasing, and fueling their machines. By six-thirty, they were blowing black smoke and moving material. When they tore out the old road, the triple-axle Macs were lined up nose-to end gate. The guy on the hoe swung steady as a metronome. Every stroke, he laid four yards of broken asphalt in the bed of the trucks gentle as a baby in a bassinette. When they hauled in breaker rock for the new base, every load of limestone was greeted with a dozer blade. It was like a choreographed, diesel-powered dance.
When things go well at the clinic, we get off at six; seven on Mondays. More often than not, A-1 Excavating would just be sweeping the sidewalks and idling down. Early in my practicing years I was whining to my dad after a long day at the clinic. “Son, it ain’t the same twelve hours driving between calls and B.S.’n with the farmers as setting rebar and pouring concrete.” Point taken.
Summer evenings I’d ride my bike through to see what they were up to. You could not find an empty tobacco tin, Mountain Dew can, or sandwich bag on the A-1 Excavating job site. Their equipment was lined up in formation. They were bound-by-contract to have the first phase done by Memorial Day for the sake of the small-business’ in town. All spring it rained like Noah and the Ark and they had to core down twenty-two feet in the three hundred block to reach solid base. Still, by mid-May they were a month ahead of schedule and had to wait for school to get out when they got to Lakeview Terrace on the edge of campus.
The job foreman was a hard-handed young man named Cody. He looked like he could have won a state-championship in wrestling at a hundred-eighty pounds. Mid-June his Brittany Spaniel ran through a barbed-wire fence. He apologized profusely for disrupting my Sunday. I explained the clinic he was standing in and my education were subsidized by a heavy-equipment operator working overtime; it was the least I could do.
For twelve years, we were entertained by an exuberant English Cocker Spaniel named Lilly who belonged to our friends Joe and Wanda Pleshek. If ever there was a dog that would live forever, it would have been her. Alas, we finally had to say goodbye, but the void would not last long. Joe found Buck, heir apparent to the legendary Lilly from a top-flight breeder in Vandalia, Illinois. I know the area well.
“Vandelly” is an hour south of Decatur, and half-way to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Kelsey’s farm in Greenville. My grandma and I would road-trip in her ’74 Plymouth Valiant. Grandma drank ice tea dark as a Guinness Stout, by the gallon. We always took an obligatory bathroom break at a rest stop in clear view of the State Penitentiary. She called it The Peanut Farm.
Joe is the CEO of a large biotech firm, and looks the part. He spoke highly of his experience with the breeder Jay Lowry. The drive he could have done without. “Man, Dr. Stork, once you get south of Rockford, there is nothin’ to see.”
Boredom is in the eye of the beholder.
Since Dad died, I make that drive every Thanksgiving. It’s an hour to Rockford, and another to LaSalle Peru, then Bloomington, and finally Decatur. The road is straight-as-a-snap-line and the land is flat as piss-on-a-plate, but to me, there is plenty to see.
Unbeknownst to my wife, I plan our departure to have us just south of Rockford at sunrise. By mile marker one-fifteen I feel a physiologic lack of encumbrance. As you climb out of the Kishwaukee River Valley, you’re greeted by red flashing lights atop the wind turbines.