It’s High Time You Pulled Off the Interstate

On The Road

Alright KELOLAND, how many times have you driven on I-90 past the Pukwana, South Dakota exit? Sure, you’ve probably heard about the turkey races maybe even shared a joke or two about the town name… but we’re going to take you inside this town that’s full of rich history and definitely community pride! “The best day of the year when the Turkey Queens appear, and I ask you very confidentially, ‘Ain’t you glad they’re here?  Ain’t they sweet?  See them walking down the street…” Trudi Lantz sang.

That is the Pukwana Community Social Club singing the Turkey Day Queen song.  Pukwana, South Dakota was famously known for its Turkey Day Races.  Thousands and thousands of visitors would pack the streets to see turkeys race from in and out of the state.  Long-time Pukwana resident Trudi Lantz told me they even had a Turkey Day queen. “Women would come, girls, and try out for the Turkey Queen and dress up, and people would vote for the queen,” Trudi Lantz recalled.

Pukwana was the place to be for dancing and big bands, too, the Lawrence Welk Band played here.
“Built the ballroom over here and then they gave ballroom lessons, and some big bands were that at the time and one of them was Guy Lombardo,” said Lantz.

This has always been a place for entertainment.  But did you know that in the early 1900’s, Pukwana was known as “the biggest little town in South Dakota?” John A. Stransky of Pukwana was something of an inventor and developed a gas saving device called a vaporizer.  Mayor Larry McManus provides a quick history lesson. “Stransky was… was a very progressive type business anyway.  It developed the gas saving and burglar alarms, the gas saving for vehicles.  And they marketed all of the United States and some overseas, too,” recalled Pukwana mayor Larry McManus.

In fact, 72 foreign countries.  Trudi was one of Stransky’s last employees. “We built them. We packed them. We shipped them, all over the country, all over the world,” said Lantz. “Out of Pukwana,” said Huether. “Yes,” said Lantz. “Okay,” said Huether. “And at the time of the gas saver, why, Pukwana’s post office was a first-class post office,” recalled Lantz.

Times have changed since that heyday, but the pride amongst the residents is real.  Pukwana is one of the cleanest towns I have visited while “On the Road.” “When I came into Pukwana a week ago, there were no potholes in your streets, the lawns were mowed, I couldn’t find any trash.  It was just a beautiful community.  What are you doing? What’s the message here?.” asked Huether.

Mayor Larry credits the town’s people and also gave a shout out to Delbert Shields, whom some in town call “the unsung hero” of Pukwana. Delbert is one of a handful on the town’s payroll. “The people in town are interested in keeping up they’re property. And we have a few stragglers, but not too many.  Otherwise, everybody likes it to look nice. We get a lot of compliments on our mowing,” said town maintenance man, Delbert Shields.

People are noticing and are choosing Pukwana as their new home. “We’re at 285 people in the 19 or the last census. But the projection, was the not projection, it was 301 although we’ve increased our growth. Oh, we love growth,” said McManus. “Well, I love growth.  You’re growing in Pukwana, South Dakota,” said Huether. “Yep,” answered McManus. “I love it,” replied Huether. “Yep. And we have lots available for housing so, and with our sewer and water being up to date, we’re ready for them.  We have plenty of storage capacity,” said McManus. “Sounds like a mayor,” said Huether. “We might be little, but we’re progressive if we can be,” answered McManus.

Of course, at some point during my visit, I had to bring up the topic of the jokes over the generations about the town’s name.  Everyone I talked to takes it in stride. “You love this town. You have so much pride for this town, does it bother you when someone would relay a joke about Pukwana?” asked Huether. ” No, no.  I relay my jokes clear across the country.  I relayed when I’m in Hartford the other day and I got the whole BP laughing,” said Delbert Shields. “About Pukwana?” asked Huether. “Yah,” said Shields.

Without relaying the punchline of one of the more famous jokes, let’s just say it got a reaction. Mayor Larry sees the jokes about the town name as an asset versus a liability. “I think that’s good. It’s unique. We can make fun of jokes over… they use the abbreviation of our name to our advantage or to a disadvantage, but it’s… it’s a conversation piece,” said McManus.

Pukwana is full of history, pride and still today, entertainment options. KELOLAND viewers, the town is only 1.8 miles, less than five minutes off of Interstate I-90 at exit 272.  Racing is still part of the equation, but it is no longer turkeys, now it is lawn mowers. “You’re the historian here, so they had turkey races, emu races, outhouse races, they had turtle races, I’ve been told.  And now they have lawn mower races.  What am I missing?” asked Huether. “I guess, I really don’t have anything, I think I pretty well covered it,” said Shields. “I know you are a race car driver, Delbert.  So, I gotta ask, do you ever drive in the lawn mower races?” asked Huether. “Nope,” answered Shields. “Why?” asked Huether. “That is the most dangerous thing I have ever seen in my life,” said Shields. Here’s something to impress your friends at your next get-together: Pukwana got its name from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” The last stanza reads, “In the smoke that rolled around him, the pukwana of the peace pipe.” The Ojibwa word “pukwana” translates literally as “the curling smoke of the peace pipe” or “Smoke of the Pipe of the Great Spirit.”

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