By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 4/04/17 (Tue)
Back in the 1980s and into the early ‘90s, I had this quirky habit of visiting small towns for no apparent reason.
I did it in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and even though I didn’t know a soul in any of these communities I visited, I loved every minute of it.
There was something exciting about saying hello to another prairie town to see how similar or different they might have been from my home town.
The first time I ever did this was in the tiny town of Draper, S.D., which is near Pierre. I just drove into town, drove around town and noticed there were several vehicles at the local auditorium.
I went into the building and found that there was some sort of adult basketball league in session. So after introducing myself, the guys quickly asked me if I wanted to play basketball?
Why not? I just happened to have a pair of gym shorts and shoes in my car. So I ended up playing a night of basketball with people I had never seen before and haven’t seen since. It was a lot of fun.
When I would get time, especially during the week, a drive into small towns in Manitoba; Carmen, Gretna, Boissevain, Killarney, St. Agathe, Virden, Sprague and others, showed me exactly how these towns and villages ticked.
One hot, summer afternoon I pulled up to a hotel/tavern in Killarney and went in thinking I would get a cold Moosehead beer. Turns out, at the time, they couldn’t sell Moosehead in Manitoba so I had to settle for a Labatt’s.
There was a female bartender and I started talking to her. She took note of the “Edgeley Centennial” T-shirt I was wearing and asked me if I was from Edgeley.
I told her no, but I was part of the National Guard unit there and she told me that she grew up in next-door Ellendale and married a guy from Killarney. We had a long and interesting conversation.
One time I was on my way home from Regina and stopped in Midale, Saskatchewan to see what was going on. There happened to be a farm auction so I went to it.
There was a lot of farm equipment that I could never have used, but I did make some bids just to say I participated. It was like Draper, it was a lot of fun in a different way.
When I lived in Langdon, I had left town for the Linton Centennial and I always had this habit of traveling on back roads through North Dakota and that day was no different.
When I drove through Maddock, there was a large crowd of people so I stopped to see what it was about. Turns out, they were dedicating a computer technology building and I ended up staying there all day mingling with people, taking advantage of a free lunch and learning a lot about Maddock that I didn’t know before.
In Minnesota, it was Rothsay, a little town near Fergus Falls. In that case, a friend and I drove out there one Saturday afternoon and ended up going to a picnic with some people we met there who we had never seen before. We also played a couple of games of softball with the locals.
My buddy ended up dating a girl from there for a short time since we were doing some construction work nearby.
Oakes was a community in North Dakota that I always seemed to bypass. I frequently had business in Edgeley and Lisbon, but never Oakes. So one time I made it a point to make it my business.
I stopped in, parked my car and walked up and down Main Street, getting the feel of what it was like. By the time I had left, I learned of several products I could purchase that weren’t available in Lisbon or Edgeley, thus I now had a good reason to stop there when driving through to Lisbon.
There are lots of stories like this; stopping into Boissevain to have a cold beer before crossing the border into North Dakota, dropping into the grocery store in Carmen only to find out goalie Eddie Belfour was a couple of blocks away displaying the Stanley Cup.
It would probably be hard to do that now, but as a college-age person, it was a lot of fun and created lots of memories as you can see.
And it’s amazing how small the world is. One day I was on my way home from Grand Forks – this was when I was in college – when I lost a generator belt and it was about an hour before dark.
I drove up to a Wimbledon gas station on battery power and asked if they could put on a new belt. They did, but I said I was a college student and didn’t have the money for it but would pay it my next time through. I told the guy one of my friends, Jim Schmidt, lived in Wimbeldon. He said, Oh, yeah, Jim, just pay us when you can.”