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The Wagon Wheel Project


The Wagon Wheel Project explores the complex ways a local gathering place creates and maintains community. The book tells the story of Mankato, Minnesota’s longest continually operating restaurant, the Wagon Wheel Café. Featuring compelling life stories of regulars and staff along with over 100 photographs from award-winning photographer John Cross, The Wagon Wheel Project invites readers to see the everyday in new ways—at the Wagon Wheel and beyond.

FORMAT – Hard Cover w/dust jacket - $24.95

ISBN: 978-0-9850937-2-3
Publish Date: 2012
Pages: 135
Size: 10.5 x 11 x .6 inches
Hard cover, 135 pp.

This book project has been made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Reviews & Comments

"The cynical among us like to bemoan technology: That all this time we spend in front of screens means less time out there connecting with people one-on-one. As a result, the historic gathering places of the past gather no more than dust.

But there’s good news, as The Wagon Wheel Project attest: Main Street is not dead.

Dave Engen, a communications professor at MSU-Mankato, and longtime Free Press photographer John Cross spent months interviewing and photographing the regulars of Front Street’s Wagon Wheel Café in Mankato. The result is an intimate portrait of real people who gather with others to exchange ideas, cultivate friendships and foster a sense of community.

The stories are heartwarming and at times, heartbreaking. But the short vignettes always end on a note of hope. That whatever hardships people have faced in their lives, the Wagon Wheel Café and its denizens give them a sense of purpose, something to look forward to. The book makes us realize the important purpose that community serves. Let us not ever forget that.

Engen has the gift of drawing the best stories out of people, and Cross is one of the most talented photojournalists working in the state today. Readers of the book are lucky they teamed up.

Many of these stories first appeared in several Sunday editions of The Free Press. But the hardcover and glossy pages within do the stories and photos real justice. The Wagon Wheel Project is a beautiful book to look at and read."

~ Rachael Hanel, writer and university instructor in Mankato, Minnesota.
Her memoir, "We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down" will be released in April 2013.

“The stories and photographs in this book will move you. You will identify with the characters, get a kick out of their honesty, experience their pain and their triumph. Most of all, you will learn what this community treasure means to them, and in the process, you just might discover what it means to you.”
~Tim Walz