Yellowstone Trail route travels right down Laurel’s Main Street

Local man wants to erect marker by Chamber building

Outlook managing editor

Although few realize it and even fewer can remember it, Laurel’s Main Street is part of the Yellowstone Trail, among the first of the intercontinental highway systems.
Despite its relative obscurity, there are many folks including lots of car buffs like Greg Childs who would like to raise awareness of the early roadway.
“The Yellowstone Trail became part of the Good Roads Program,” Childs said. “It was one of several nationwide programs organized by communities and built by volunteers.”
While Old Highway 10 and parts of I-90 now overlap segments of the original road in Yellowstone and Stillwater counties, tourists in search of history often seek out those off-the-beaten path routes along the Yellowstone Trail and want to learn more about the accompanying local history. In Wisconsin, the official headquarters of the trail association, much of the state’s tourism industry centers on taking trips along the roadway.
“My interest got started with the old car hobby,” Childs, a former pilot for Delta explained. “I have about 10 American cars built between the ‘30s and the ’50s. All of them can be driven. We took four old-car trips this summer.” Childs doesn’t mean he took a Sunday drive to Red Lodge. The trips added a lot of miles to cars with long-expired warranties.
“My wife, Debbie, is the spotter and my dog, Roundup always comes along,” he said. “We just talk and look at the countryside.”
Childs has been a cog in the wheel of preserving the history of early roadways for years. Wherever he has lived, he championed the historical significance of nearby old roads. He was a founding member of the Lincoln Highway Association.
“We moved to Salt Lake City and the Lincoln Highway was just three blocks from home,” he said. “I organized a tour of pre-World War II cars on the Lincoln Highway.”
While Childs was raised in Laurel, he and his family returned to the area in 2006, setting up residence on Thiel Rd,. just south of the Laurel along the Yellowstone River. It was natural for him to join the Yellowstone Trail Association. And, as he recently told the Laurel City Council, he’d like to erect an official sign indicating the route through Laurel. The sign would be donated by the YTA. Being part of the large association would put Laurel on the map, as they say. It could also help draw modern-day travelers in search of the past.
Although the roadway officially got it’s start in South Dakota, as the project grew one of the intentions of planners became having a route specifically to traverse the country from the east coast to Yellowstone National Park.
In 1912, when the Trail and the association supporting it became official, traveling by automobile was still in its infancy. Pictures of early Laurel during the first couple of decades of the 20th Century show many more horses and buggies than new-fangled automobiles. But, even before the advent of the horseless carriage, bicycle riders had been pushing for a formal systems of roads.
While the Trail throughout Montana paralleled the railroad for many miles, riding the rails had begun to lose appeal when compared to the autonomous nature of the Ford Model T, the most widely produced and available vehicle from 1908–1927. The four-seater had a pedal-based control system and was easily mastered. For those who could afford one, a car offered freedom. But, it wasn’t until long after autos became mass-produced that there were adequate roads for all the car owners who wanted to journey out of town.
And once there were roads came the attendant roadside businesses. Laurel hosted at least one early precursor to motels. Just outside of Laurel, a tourist camp offered travelers on the Yellowstone Trail the opportunity to rest, set up camp, and shop in the nearby mercantiles.
The original Yellowstone Trails Association officially operated from 1912 through 1930, providing communities along the route technical advice on road building, maps and tourist materials.
During this era, roads weren’t marked, there were few maps and slippery mud was the usual road surface. The YTA located a route, motivated road improvements, produced maps and folders to guide travelers, and promoted tourism along its length. It became a leader in stimulating tourist travel to the Northwest and was a motivator for good roads across America.
Many remnants of the old Yellowstone Trail are still in use. The YTA website at offers maps and historical information.
Although Childs plans to assist the city in obtaining the sign and getting it set up, he is too busy in retirement to do much more.
“Between the horses and the old cars I keep pretty busy,” he said. “And, we still have roads to travel.”


Upcoming Events

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Tuesdays, Noon, Beartooth Grill, 305 1st Ave. S.
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
10 a.m., Laurel Public Library, 720 West Third Street, Laurel, 628-4961


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