Settled in 1886 by German immigrants who came from Russia, this is a wheat town; as of 1941, it shipped some 2,000,000 bushels of wheat annually. It was also the trade and social center of a stock raising area. It continues to celebrate its German Russian heritage with the annual three-day Deutschesfest in September, a tradition that began in 1971 and features German food and music, a parade, arts and crafts exhibits, a carnival, and sports events and the big attraction—the Biergarten.
When wheat prices were high, Odessa prospered. In 1941 automobiles and trucks lined the curb on a Saturday afternoon and business blocks gave way to neat yards around simple houses, each protected by picket or wire fences and shaded by trees. In the section near the railroad tracks were several large grain elevators and flour and feed mills. The town dates back to 1886 and was settled by German immigrants chiefly from southern Russia, where they had settled during the time of Catherine the Great, who hoped their industry would set an example for her peasants. The immigrants inspired the Great Northern Railroad officials to select the name of the town, after the Ukrainian city of Odessa that sits on the Black Sea.
West of Odessa, the tour follows a slightly winding course through sagebrush barrens broken occasionally by orchards or surprising vistas. This section of the highway is an invitation to night driving, especially during the hot weather of midsummer. Only occasionally is the straightaway broken by a sharp curve, a dip, an incline, or a winding stretch of road around the base of some cliff or coulee wall. Now and then the eyes of an approaching car appear in the distance, grow brighter and brighter, give a brief close glow, disappear. Occasionally, a truck with heavily laden trailers thunders past, or a jack rabbit, phantom-like, leaps across the road. In the spring the scent of apple blossoms reveals an orchard hidden by the darkness.