Discovering Dakota | Looking around in LaMoure

This column was originally published on Monday, Sept. 7, 2009, in The Jamestown Sun.

It was cloudy on the Friday morning I visited LaMoure, N.D. I passed several sunflower fields on the way and noticed the plants were drooping, as if they were bashful.

I stopped a few miles west of town when I saw a row of old farm machines literally left out to pasture on the hillside where N.D. Highway 13 starts its descent into the James River Valley. They looked like some sort of agricultural monument there on the south side of the road.

The machines were the first of a string of easy-to-reach sights on the highway on the west side of LaMoure, a town of about 1,000 people about 45 miles south by southeast of Jamestown.

Straight northeast of me was LaMoure’s OMEGA radio navigation tower, a hard-to-miss metal spire reaching 1,200 feet high with more wires than I could count holding it up.

The structure was built as a part of a network of eight towers across the world that let ships and aircraft determine their location on the planet within a few miles. OMEGA was shut down in 1997, according to globalsecurity.org, after GPS had proven to be so much more accurate.

The tower is still used by the U.S. Navy, however, for submarine communications.

The highway crosses the James River not far east of there, and there is a little park where travelers can stop for a picnic or a break. The sign even says “Tourist Camp.”

The river was pouring fast over the park’s dam, creating a steady, soothing roar. The patterns in the falling water were oddly beautiful. Large tailfins frequently broke through the surface of the water just below the dam, revealing large fish below.

I strolled down the riverbank, wondering how high the water must have gotten during the floods this spring. Then I noticed all the debris hanging from tree branches over my head.

Just a bit farther down the road was LaMoure’s Minuteman nuclear missile, which stands in honor of the late Republican Sen. Milton Young, known as “Mr. Wheat,” who represented North Dakota in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades.

The missile looked oddly harmless, even though I knew there was a time when it was ready to incinerate millions at a moment’s notice.

Next to the missile is the RedWing steamboat, which was one of three such vessels piloted on the James River by Capt. A.H. Anderson back in the early 20th century. According to the large plaque in front of the boat, such travel came to an end thanks to a combination of the river getting lower and bridges being raised.

The plaque said Anderson eventually wound up using the boat as his living quarters in Fullerton, N.D. It was given to the city of LaMoure after his death in 1961.

Both the missile and the boat stand next to the parking lot of the Travel Inn Motel. Inside, I met Lennie Muir, the manager, who moved to LaMoure a few months ago after bringing his four children here from Tennessee.

Between keeping the motel in order and taking care of his teenage children, Muir has plenty to keep him busy. The parking lot was completely empty, but Muir said it had a tendency to fill up quickly with travelers, construction workers and, soon, hunters needing a place to stay.

“Within a matter of a few hours, we go from three or four people to a full house,” he said.

Muir said the motel also housed several National Guard soldiers during the flood fight this spring. The motel never flooded, but the field across the highway did. A part of the dike still stands nearby.

LaMoure is a good town for raising kids, Muir said. It has enough amenities for his family without the complexity, crime or costs of a larger city. His neighbors were also helpful, he said, after the family arrived in town without any furniture.

Muir gave me a few pointers on where to find some lunch and I went on my way into downtown LaMoure. After getting out on foot and wandering a bit, I found Wanda’s Place, where I sat in a booth and contemplated the menu.

The waitress told me everything on the menu was good when I asked her for advice, so I picked the French dip sandwich and an order of onion rings. It took a bit longer than I expected for my food to come, but then again, I don’t run a restaurant.

The sandwich and au jus were simple and beefy and the rings, while not burned, tasted and looked like they’d been in the fryer a moment too long. I was satisfied and felt no need to complain.

The owner and cook, Wanda Robert, came and talked with me for a bit when I called her over after my plate was clean.

Robert said the restaurant had marked its third year of operation earlier in August. She said the back part used to be a creamery and the dining rooms were where they would clean dairy trucks. Her husband, who died last fall, built the bar.

Owning a restaurant is natural for Robert, who grew up in Berlin, N.D., and started working in restaurants after high school. Today, she does the cooking in her own place and most of the restaurant’s recipes are hers.

“I’ve always been in the food business,” Robert said.

Outside the restaurant, I crossed the street to Wildflowers, LaMoure’s flower shop/gift shop/malt shop. Muir had recommended I stop by the place for a drink.

I ordered a hazelnut malt and Luanne Slykerman, the lady in charge, whipped it up. Muir’s advice was right: it was a very tasty treat, and the shop was a nice place for taking a break.

I noticed that, as if by magic, the thick clouds that had filled the sky that morning yielded to clear blue.

I stepped outside and walked south down the street to the offices for the LaMoure Chronicle, where the staff told me I ought to drive four miles east and two miles south of town to find something special and unexpected: a museum and two magazines devoted entirely to farm and truck toys.

The Toy Farmer magazine was started by the late Claire Scheibe in 1978, said Betty Pratt, the woman running the Toy Farmer Museum. The magazine was just a single sheet then, but today it’s a full 80 pages thick and has more than 35,000 subscriptions. The company now produces Toy Farmer and Toy Trucker magazines from its rural building and displays Scheibe’s collection inside a renovated barn.

The museum is like a mecca for anyone — still young or grown up — who played with toy barns and tractors as a child, myself included. The walls and shelves are covered with classic toys and an indoor sandbox contains several less pristine models for visiting children to play with. I asked Pratt how many vehicles the exhibit had.

“You know, I couldn’t even tell you,” she said.

(Logan C. Adams is the assistant editor of The Jamestown Sun. He blogs 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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One Response to Discovering Dakota | Looking around in LaMoure

  1. janiejones says:

    I really enjoy the Discovering Dakota series–can I suggest you make a trip to Cooperstown? It’s a cool little place, and the cold war missile site (the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site, to be exact) is a very cool window into our past.