Home stretch; 2069 miles down
INTERESTING MINNESOTA... Crossed from Fargo, North Dakota into Moorhead, Minnesota which is home to a plethora of gigantic tourist attractions. Big Ole is a 28-foot Viking statue in Alexandria that's welcomed visitors since 1965. There is a 13-foot prairie chicken in Rothsay, Minnesota. Fergus Falls, Minn. has a large, ground-hugging otter statue, there's an enormous Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minn. and Frazee, Minn. has a 22-foot-tall turkey. This is turkey number two for Frazee. Their first bird was accidentally destroyed in 1998 when maintenance crews slipped with their blowtorch while prepping the bird for the Turkey Days festival. Darwin is home to the World's Largest Twine Ball.
Created by Francis Johnson, the ball is 12-feet in diameter and 17,400 pounds and housed in a gazebo in a city lot across from a park. There's even a "Twine Ball Days" festival, held the second Saturday in August. Aside from a fabulous series of well groomed paved bicycle trails, Minnesota also has the unique Dassel Area Historical Museum. The museum, housed in the old Universal Laboratories building, features the rare history of raw ergot which was used by pharmaceutical companies to save countless military and civilian lives. Ergot is a natural fungus that infects small grains like rye and grasses. The ergot is a dark-colored kernel on the head of a grain stalk. In the 1940s and 1950s women in Dassel were hired to hand pick the fungus from the grains. Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly eventually started using the alkaloids extracted from ergot to control hemorrhaging and blood pressure. However, ergot also caused hallucinogenic effects and was an ingredient in LSD. Historians now believe ergot was a factor in the 1862 Salem Witch Trials. The trials were set off by the strange behavior of a group of young girls. Their violent shaking, hallucinating and obscene babbling were construed as the result of witchcraft. Today, one theory is they were suffering from ergotism since the cold, wet conditions favored growing of ergot in the Massachusetts Colony. Eating ergot-contaminated foods can lead to a convulsive disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, muscle spasms and a bunch of other symptoms. At the time, rye was a staple grain of Salem.
IMPRESSIVE BISMARCK... Bismarck, North Dakota is impressive. Great Indian and dinosaur history, fabulous Heritage Museum (free admission), wonderful parks, and the state has a $1.2 billion budget surplus. "We've been nicked in a couple places with the economy but we're not experiencing what the rest of the country is going through," said Gary Ness a local businessman and volunteer at the Heritage Museum. Ness credited the state's surplus to the oil boom in the west. There had been some cutbacks; including the Bobcat Corporation, maker of small backhoes and construction equipment. "They had to furlough some employees, but they're coming back," he said noting North Dakota has about 100% employment. SACAJAWEA... Although I've been mighty impressed with Lewis and Clark, there's a lot to be said for Indian guide Sacajawea. She was about 16-years-old when Lewis and Clark arrived at her village in 1804. Sacajawea and her husband, French trader Toussaint Charbonneau, traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition. She was most helpful because she recognized landmarks and acted as a translator. One of the current issues surrounding Sacajawea is the spelling of her name. People in North Dakota spell it Sakakawea. The name is a derivation of the Hidatsa Tsakakawias which means "bird woman." Sacagawea is the official spelling by the United States Geographical Board and the pronunciation means "boat launcher." Sacajawea is the spelling used in the Lewis & Clark journals and is the pronunciation adopted by many western states. OLD DINER... Driscoll, North Dakota is a small community about 32 miles east of Bismarck The sign at the edge of town reads: 'Home to Hall of Famer Era Bell Thompson.' The sign itself is big, compared to Driscoll. There's a railroad crossing, a cafe, and Norm's Grocery & Meat Processing, which also serves as the town post office. Norm and his wife Jean have run the store since 1958. "Used to sell a lot," said Norm pushing a rather fatty side of beef across a ceiling track closer to a jigsaw. "Now people come in for a gallon of milk, their mail and that's about it." Norm makes his money from his meat cutting business. The butcher shop is in the back of the grocery, behind two long aisles of sparsely stocked shelves. Items are neatly arranged in sections. Cereal, bread, canned goods and the like; a separate area for cleaning products and gloves. The utilities and medicine section featured bottles of yellow Listerine, next to a plastic bottle of shampoo and several brands of mosquito repellant; Off and Cutter. At the end of the row was a single white and pink can of Hair Net. There were 23 DVD's on the end-cap including Nacho Libre, Crash, Casino Royale, and Superman. Boxes of Anacin and Aleve fronted a pegboard that held a pack of dark shoelaces, a plastic rain hood. Feminine products, like a Goody hairnet and Cannonette panty hose, one size fits all, made of miracle stretch material, look like original store stock from the 1950s. A well worn hardwood floor runs through the store. The post office is located in the front. The door to the mailroom was open, as was the safe. "You missed our big celebration," said Jean who had a hacksaw and was trimming Norm's side of beef. "We have a huge July 4th celebration. Got more than 200 people this year," she said rolling her eyes at the crowd and the day of chaos in little Driscoll. Next door to the grocery was the Driscoll Cafe; equally as dated and precious. It was as if time had come to a stop. Glass canisters of homemade cookies lined the back counter. Pushed up against the stainless steel canister lids were cinnamon rolls, covered with vanilla icing and plastic wrap. I asked the waitress who was in her mid-50s about the sign at the entrance to the town with their hall of famer.
"Oh, Era Bell was a colored woman from here who went on to become the editor of Ebony magazine or something," she said. Thompson was an author, who was asked to write an article for Negro Digest, the forerunner of Ebony magazine. Over the years Thompson became managing editor of Ebony and in 1964 was given the title of International editor. In 1976, North Dakota Governor Arthur Link presented Thompson with the Roughrider Award for her outstanding contribution of time and talent benefiting the state and nation.