Jerry Nelson: 24 hours in Emmetsburg

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

My wife and I recently spent 24 hours in the bustling metropolis of Emmetsburg, Iowa.

For those who aren’t in the know, Emmetsburg (population: 3,904) is located about a dozen miles north of Mallard, with Ayrshire roughly ten miles to the southwest. As such, Emmetsburg is easy to find.

We overnighted at a local casino even though gambling is a moral hazard for me. I always lose when I gamble and losing causes me to swear. Avoiding gambling thus prevents me from taking the Lord’s name in vain.

My wife, on the other hand, has a knack for winning, but only if I’m not with her. After she collected some funds from the casino, we opted to celebrate with a restaurant meal. A short drive found us at the Cornerstone Pub & Grille.

The Cornerstone is a typical small-town pub. But as we approached the joint, we could see that there was something different about the place. Specifically, there was a shiny red BMW motorcycle and sidecar parked at the curb. The sidecar, which was extremely streamlined and fully enclosed, was unlike any we had ever seen. It looked like a starship escape pod.

Jerry Nelson spotted this BMW motorcycle and sidecar outside the Cornerstone Pub & Grille in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

We went into the Cornerstone and were enjoying a burger and a beer when the couple who owned the bike walked by. We knew they were the owners because the guy was wearing a BMW shirt. Either he was the bike’s owner or was being paid to advertise BMW in random small towns.

My wife, ignoring admonishment that you should never talk to strangers, spoke to the strangers, who admitted that they like to coddiwomple. After complimenting them for their nifty rig, my wife had one burning question: was the sidecar air-conditioned?

“No,” replied the lady, “It only has a fan.”

“That’s not true,” chimed her husband with a grin, “The sidecar is climate-controlled. It’s heated in the summertime and air-conditioned in the winter.”

Spoken like a true guy!

The next morning, I was slated to give a talk at a farm show being held at the Palo Alto County Fairgrounds. My wife and I sat at the back of the venue and waited for my turn to come.

An elderly lady took a seat next to us, saying that she wanted to hear the next guy speak. I informed her that I was the next guy.

The lady, who introduced herself as Bev, seemed happy to meet us. Bev told us that she’s 87 years old, has 21 great-grandchildren and manages a swine operation at Cylinder (motto: A Well-Rounded Town), Iowa. Bev mused that she’s probably one of the oldest hog operators in Iowa. It would be safe to say that she’s probably the oldest female hog operator in the Hawkeye State.

Bev gives piano lessons to schoolkids and is the organist at her church. “After the war, Dad wanted to buy a piano for me, but he didn’t have the $40,” Bev said. “He went to the bank for a loan, and they asked for collateral, so he put up Mom’s cookstove.”

Sadly, Bev doesn’t own that particular piano anymore. However, she has since purchased one that has a much lengthier vintage.

“I threw a birthday party for my piano when it turned 100,” she smiled. “The party was potluck, and more than 60 people turned out for it. We had a lot of fun. I love a party!”

I want to be just like Bev when I grow up.

After my talk, I chatted with some of the nice folks who had attended. I made sure that they met my wife so they could commiserate with her for having been stuck with me for 40 years.

I perused the booths at the farm show, one of which was sponsored by the Emmetsburg Reporter-Democrat newspaper. I asked the lady in the booth who the town had been named for, thinking that it would be some obscure and forgotten railroad executive such as Emmet Finkelstein.

“Emmetsburg was named after Robert Emmet, an Irish freedom fighter,” she replied. “The town was founded in the 1850s by Irish immigrants during the Great Famine of Ireland.”

“That explains all the Irish-themed businesses I’ve seen,” I said.

“We hold our St. Patrick’s Day parade no matter what, even if it’s snowing!” she said proudly.

I asked what there is to see in Emmetsburg.

“We have some wonderful murals around town. And we are located on the southern tip of picturesque Five Island Lake, which has parks, hiking trails and a golf course.”

We would have liked to explore all of those things further, but our 24 hours in Emmetsburg were at an end. Maybe another day.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.