Archive for August, 2011

Fifteen hundred miles of Dakota

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

We pulled into Fargo yesterday after driving almost 1,500 miles through North and South Dakota. As mentioned in my previous posts, there’s a lot of farm land in this part of the great United States of America. Hay, wheat, soybeans, corn, sunflowers … and a lot of each. We got some chuckles along the way reading what restaurants, churches and billboards had posted. Here are a few:

“Don’t text and drive, but it’s safe to pray”
“Be an American. Use Ethanol”

On a church sign: “Exercise Daily. Walk with the Lord”

On a restaurant sign: “Take life with a grain of salt … and a shot of tequilla and lemon”

On a sign in one of the parks: “Do not approach the buffalo. They weigh 2000 pounds and can run 30 mph … faster than you can!”

And, entering ND the sign says “Welcome to North Dakota. Legendary”

Bismarck to Fargo via Jamestown

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

About halfway between Bismarck and Fargo is Jamestown, home of a huge statue of a buffalo. It stands 26 feet high is 14 feet wide and 46 feet long. It weighs 60 tons. This man-made attraction has been drawing tourists since it was built in 1959. I remember being there as a kid. Frontier Village is a block long main street collection of old west town buildings, some doubling as gift shops, and near by is the Buffalo Museum.

In the hilly land that surrounds Frontier Village is a live herd of buffalo. The unique thing about this herd is it includes three albino buffalo, which are extremely rare. Native Americans consider the white buffalo sacred. We saw the back end of one of the white buffalo at a distance, flicking its tail, and had a much better view of one on postcards in the gift shop. The only animals we saw up close were two pygmy goats, Ted and Fred. So, it was a little disappointing.

Characters of the West: Cousin Robb

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

In addition to meeting the chaacters of the Old West through stories, we ran into some modern day characters.

My cousin Robb is a salesperson for a drug company that sells only to independent pharmacies. The job over the last 30 plus years has gotten tougher. The company he orginally worked for was purchased, and then that one bought by a bigger fish. Independent pharmacies are disappearing and the economic squeeze on everyone, even drug companies, trickles down to the sales staff, requiring them to make more visitis to pharmacists and, at the same time, reduce travel expenses. Robb’s territory is western ND, SD and Nebraska. Lots of open land from one small town to another. He doesn’t like it as much as he used to but it’s all he’s ever done and, like many of us, is adverse to change.

Included in his territory are pharmacies on Indian Reservations. Alcoholism and drug addiction are notoriously high on the res. There is a sense of lawlessness, poverty, and sadness on the res. Robb’s job includes carrying drug samples .. and a nine mllimeter pitol in case he’s accosted.

Robb’s favorite phrase? “Better living through pharmancy”.

Characters of the West: French Creek Charlie

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

In addition to meeting the characters of the Old West through stories, we ran into some modern day characters.

We dropped in to see Chuch Cochrane in Custer, SD. Cochrane taught at Fargo South High in the 70’s and 80’s with Dad, retiring to Custer in 1990. While in Custer he owned and operated the Trading Post up until four or five years ago. He also had a business called French Creek Charlie where he took people out panning for gold.

The second thing I noticed about Charlie’s log cabin home was all the stuff. It’s like a shrine to dead and historical things. There are no fewer than four stuffed animal heads (big horned sheep, deer, anteloope and even a jackalope) and guns mounted on the wall using deer hooves as holders.

Charlie is 72, a smoker, a bit hard of hearing, has difficulty breathing and walks with a cane as a result of a knee replacement on May 2. He is full of stories and opinions (he was watching Fox News when we arrived) about local goings-on and can out talk even Dad.

We listened for almost an hour until his (fourth) wife, Pam, returned from playing cards with her mother at the local nursing home. They play gin, and Pam’s mom usually wins, although Pam won that day.

The six of us went for pie at The Purple Pie Place. While we ate our baked goods, Pam suggested local attractions, some of which we had already seen and some we took in after we left them.

I don’t remember having Mr. Cochrane for a teacher but Barb does. On our way out of the pie place he asked Barb point blank if he was a good teacher. Without missing a beat she said, “Sure. You betcha”. Good answer!

We said our goodbyes and explored Custer for an hour. Our first stop? The Trading Post.

Characters of the West: Deadwood Legend

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

In addition to meeting the characters of the Old West through stories, we ran into some modern day characters.

While walking along Main Street in Deadwood a guy stumbled out of a bar for a smoke.

South Dakota recently banned smoking so all the restaurants, gaming establishments, bars and other public places are smoke free. My cousin Robb reported that gambling revenue is down about 17% since the ban.

As this guy attempted to light his cigarette he said “Take my picture. I’m a Deadwood legend”. So, I took his photo, after which he told me if I needed a guide, he was my guy. He also questioned whether or not there was film in my (digital) camera and I showed him his image on the screen and he seemed pleased.

Characters of the West: Kuchara

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

In addition to meeting the characters of the Old West through stories, we ran into some modern day characters.

At Spearfish Canyon an older man with a cane and a dog (not on a leash) approached me asking what I was shooting. Handing over my camera, he told me he shot Canons for years and currently has a Nikon, which he doesn’t like. Quizzing me he asked me where I was from, what I did for a living, etc. When I told him about my ‘retirement’ from printing, excellent financial advisor, and ability to save, he told me he was in the financial investment business. He cut to the chase asking me which crash I lost money and how I recovered and when I got out of the market.

After I commented that I live a simple life he said he was frugal, with a capital F. Then I introduced Dad, another frugal North Dakotan. Once he knew our last name he queried us on our heritage. His name was Kuchara, which instantly rang a bell. There was a Kuchara family that lived on Elmwood Avenue when I was growing up and, of course, he was related. This man was a cousin of Jim Kuchara, the cop who lived on our block for years.

Finding out I was Norwegian, Swedish, Scottish and Dutch he wanted to see Dad’s eyes. My eyes are brown – definitely not Norwegian blue, like Dad’s, or hazel like Mom’s. Mr. Kuchara asked both Mom and Dad to remove their sunglasses so he could inspect their eyes. Seeing them, he told me I was likely part Laplander, the people who lilve in the most Northern part of Norway and eat reindeer.

His dog’s name was T-bird and, being off leash, wouldn’t leave my cousin Robb’s dog Lola alone. Robb was annoyed but Kuchara seemed to not notice, only calling T-brid twice to heal and sit, which he didn’t do for long.

In the parking lot Kuchara approached me again, telling me that some scenes from “Dances with Wolves” were shot near our next stop, where we saw him again but didn’t speak with him.

Medora to Bismarck, ND via Fort Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

I-94 makes its way out of the Badlands with long curves towards the prairie. Fields begin to take up the space as it opens, the land becoming flatter and flatter going eastward.

There were more semis on the road today, evidence of the health of the western ND oil boom … and the fact that we were on the Interstate for the first time in a week.

We made a stop south of Mandan at Ft Abraham Lincoln. Custer was stationed at Ft Lincoln for three years up until his death in 1876. A replica of the house he and his wife lived in has been rebuilt in its granduer, including a large parlor, two guest bedrooms and servants quarters. The tour was given by a young woman in period clothing and, as we stepped over the threshold, spoke as if it was 1875.

We toured the barracks where the cavalry slept and ate. Cots line the walls and, in the footlockers there are biographies of some of the soldiers. Also on the grounds of the fort are some Indian Mounds, dwellings that the Mandan lived in for a thousand years.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

On our way out of Medora we drove a short distance of the 36 mile road through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, stopping at one of the prairie dog towns and at a secnic outlook. The Badlands remind me of terrain in science fiction movies. It is rugged, barren, and extremely unique.

Medora Musical

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

A dozen Burning Hills Singer perform country songs at the outdoor Burning Hills Amphitheatre, that seats over 2,800. The facility is stunning, requiring a long drive uphill and an escalator down the side of a hill to the seating area.

The Old West facade and live country band are the backdrop for the 90 minute performance. The singers are led by vocalist and MC, Emily Walter. The cast made several costume changes and, at one point, came out in tap shoe cowboy boots and western fringe that glowed in the dark!

Also included in the evening’s performance was a tribute to Teddy Roosevelt and, at one point, a re-enactment of the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba, which seemed out of place.

The guest performers for the evening were an acrobatic trio, performing on a trapeze and rope, along with a bit of juggling. At least five live horses were also used throughout the performance, pulling in a stage coach to drop off performers or ride through “town” kicking up dust. At one point the performers rode in on an old pick up truck for the tribute to the working man, a medley of songs about hard working men including farmers.

The evening’s performance ended with a fanfare of streamers and a burst of fireworks that lit up the big night sky.

Medora, ND

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Medora is nine square blocks sporting the tag lane “North Dakota’s #1 vacation” to which I say Medora is North Dakota’s only vacation destination. It’s also home to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Our first stop was the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site. The chateau was built in the 1880’s by the Marquis de Mores and his wife as a hunting cabin. The house has 26 rooms, 10 of which are bedrooms. It is two stories with a huge porch on the front and hunting room on the back. Many of the furnishings are original.

The Marquis de Mores was newly married to Medora, after meeting her on the French Riviera. He built the town and named it after his bride. The both hunted the area, she a better shot than he. They had several servants to help run the place. In addition to his business schemes, he had a hotel built in town as well as a house for her parents.

Both the marquis and marquises were from money. He was a French aristocrat and she a US banker’s daughter. Both were educated; she spoke seven languages and he four. Her father bankrolled many of the marquis’s projects, primarly a meat slaughtering and packing plant. Eventually the plant and other ideas failed and they moved away leaving the chateau in the hands of a caretaker. They never returned and the home became a boarding house at one point. The son of de Mores gifted the house to ND and it and the interpretive center do a nice job of portraying the life and times of these people.