Discovering Dakota | Edgeley can be a very noisy place

This column was originally published in The Jamestown Sun on Aug. 11, 2008.

The first time I heard the noon siren in Edgeley, N.D., I thought it was just a drill. It turned out to be something more.

I was walking down Sixth Avenue West just a block from the water tower that holds the town’s horns when I heard it blast. At first I tried to ignore it, but something about it seemed odd.

I asked a passer-by if the siren was just a test. She said no, it was sounded every day at noon, 6 and 9 p.m. I was a bit confused and asked her why it was done that way. She said she didn’t know and was on her way before I thought to ask for her name.

It would take a good part of the day to get a good explanation for the siren.

Edgeley, where the Census Bureau found 637 people in 2000, is almost 40 miles straight south of Jamestown on U.S. Highway 281.

Many have heard of the town because of Edgeley Meat, a butcher shop that sells its products all over the Jamestown area. The business was my first real stop in the town.

I found the business in a small building in the western part of Edgeley that had a big sign on the top that said “Larry’s.”

“Larry” is actually Larry Coon, the owner. We talked for a while about how his business was doing and what it was like operating out of Edgeley. I was surprised to learn that, even though Edgeley Meat is doing well, he is looking to sell the business.

“It’s time for me to get out,” Coon said. “I’m getting too old.”

I walked back to Main Street in search of some lunch and found it at the Edgeley Coffee Shop, where I had a waitress who was so friendly and moved so quickly I thought I was imagining things.

There were two items on the menu that divided my attention: the Oz burger (because I was born in the Kansas town that now houses a large Wizard of Oz museum) and the German burger (because sauerkraut is wonderful). There may be no place like home, but the latter sounded like a better meal. I ordered it with a side of onion rings.

I looked around the room while I waited for my food and noticed that the restaurant provided free wireless Internet access for customers, something I did not expect in such a small town. I also noticed the decor, which included collections of Wheaties boxes and metal tins.

The wait didn’t take very long. The onion rings were a little burnt and crumbly, so that recipe could use some tweaking. But to change the German burger would be a bad call. The bun was fresh, the beef and Swiss cheese were lovely and the sauerkraut was browned just right.

I went back out and found a few more sights along Main Street, including H. Douglas Weaver Lions Me-morial Park, a large garden that sits between the Edgeley Mail newspaper and the Edgeley Public Library, and a hotel that shares its name with the Eagles song “Hotel California.” The door was locked and a phone number to call for reservations was listed on the sign, so I didn’t get to look inside. So much for finding out if it was such a lovely place.

On a whim I went into the Edgeley Food Center, the town’s grocery store, where there was a strong aroma of freshly baked bread in the air. The smell came from the back, where Sheila Thompson was filling in for the regular baker. She steered me to the store’s owner, Roger Larson.

Larson said he moved to Edgeley and bought the store five years ago after working in the grocery busi-ness in West Fargo. He said the business was doing well but was demanding of him.

“I actually work harder here,” he said, compared to his old job. “You have to work hard yourself. If you hire someone to do all the work for you, you’re not going to survive.”

I asked Larson if he knew the reason behind the daily sirens. He didn’t know, and neither did Jerel Baumannn, one of his employees, who had lived in Edgeley much longer.

Larson pointed me in the direction of City Auditor Joe Neis, whom I found at Edgeley’s City Hall. He said the sirens had been sounding every day to signal the times to eat lunch (noon), eat dinner (6 p.m.) and get home (9 p.m.) It was that simple.

Neis said the sirens had been sounding for all his 59 years, but he didn’t know how far back before then they had been sounded.

In fact, no one I spoke to that day could tell me how long it had been going on. Most just accepted it as the way things were done and didn’t give it any more thought or worry.

I went back outside and went south to the Fargo Assembly plant, where Roger Larson had told me to go and ask for Loya Dallman, the assistant manager. The manufacturing plant, where workers put together complex wiring harnesses for tractors and other machines, was built in what used to be Edgeley’s public school.

Dallman took me for a tour of the building, which despite having been a workshop since 1996 still smelled so much like my old high school. She showed me the gymnasium, halls and classrooms that had been turned into storage and work spaces where about 60 people labor in two shifts each day.

The process at the plant starts with laying out wires on a board and making dozens of connections with crimping and soldering to put together a harness. The pieces of wire that form the harnesses are stored in countless PVC pipes next to each work station.

“I think we have more PVC pipes in this building than there are in Edgeley’s plumbing system,” Dallman said.

Once they’re put together, the harnesses are often covered with a protective braiding with machines made in-house by the staff. The braiding devices look a bit like modified washing machines and make a decent amount of noise. The products are then inspected and shipped out to different clients, which in-clude Bobcat and other manufacturers.

Edgeley calls itself the “Gateway to Wind Energy” because just a few miles west on North Dakota Highway 13 is a large wind farm. I took the trip out to see it after I left the plant because I;d never seen a wind farm before, only solitary turbines here and there.

The sight was worth the small trip out of my way. I could see 42 turbines from a spot where I pulled over to watch. All but a few were spinning.

It was incredible to watch the massive machines at work. When the wind calmed down just enough to stop roaring past my ears, I could hear a gentle whooshing coming from the blades of the nearest tower.

I looked up the road and down the other way. I turned to the north and back to the south. I was the only person for miles. It felt good.

(Logan C. Adams is the assistant editor of The Jamestown Sun. He operates the Suns news blog at www.areavoices.com/adams and can be reached at 701-952-8451 or by e-mail at ladams @jamestownsun.com) 

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