Discovering Dakota | Buchanan, Pingree show simple honesty

This column was orginally published on Monday, Oct. 5, 2009, in The Jamestown Sun.

The North Dakota towns of Pingree and Buchanan have a lot in common.

Both towns have gravel for nearly all their streets, no more than a handful of businesses and less than 100 residents each. They both sit on U.S. Highway 281, just a bit north of Jamestown, and they were both very, very quiet places when I visited them on a recent Saturday afternoon.

I can also say that all of the people I met in both towns were very friendly, and none of them tried to pass Pingree or Buchanan off as anything but tiny, quiet places where there isn’t much excitement.

They aren’t big cities, and they aren’t tourist destinations. They’re just places to live, work and raise families, and there is nothing wrong with that.

I felt like I was being unfair to Buchanan by visiting Pingree first, seeing as it gets mentioned first whenever the two towns are discussed — probably because it’s the name of their school district. The thing is, it was the afternoon, and I was hungry, and Buchanan doesn’t have any restaurants.

After a quick drive around the town, I found lunch at the Pingree Cafe. I had a bacon cheeseburger and onion rings, which were all right. The mustard bottle was a bit difficult, though, and I walked around the rest of the afternoon with little yellow spots on the front of my shirt.

I was a bit drowsy after my meal, so I parked my car next to a park in Pingree, rolled down my windows, reclined my seat and took a short nap — Yes, boss, I slept on the job. The only sound that afternoon was the wind blowing through the trees and across the prairie, so it was easy to relax.

Once I’d rested enough, I got out of my car, never thinking to lock it, and started looking to see what I might find. I walked up to a small memorial in the park, next to a children’s playground, that listed the names of every Pingree resident who’d been a veteran of the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and, in the plaque’s words, the Korean conflict.

Farther down the street I walked, and there was Thomas Motors, a large garage surrounded by cars in need of work. It was very slow that day, but the owner, Troy Thomas, told me things pick up quite a bit Monday through Friday for his staff of six.

“You need all that stuff out here to keep the guys going,” Thomas said. “Otherwise, they’ll be standing.”

The company does a lot of work for customers from all over the state. Not an hour before, I’d driven by the place and Thomas looked up from a pickup he was working on to wave at me.

I went outside to find Lee Garrett, Woodworth, N.D., loading the truck onto a trailer. He was taking the machine out to Northwood, N.D., for a pickup-pull competition. He chained the truck’s axles down and tightened them with a length of pipe to get enough torque. A sign on the side advertised his wife’s hair and tanning salon, “Prime Cuts.”

Garrett was in a hurry and left, stopping a block later to double-check the chains. I went back to wandering Pingree.

Farther down the street was a small fenced-in basketball court, with a worn ball sitting off to one side. I picked it up and tried a few free throws just for fun, and made about one out of every dozen I tossed.

I kept wandering the quiet town, and found an old green Burlington Northern caboose with peeling, green and yellow paint. Close by was an old gazebo, where I sat down to take in the quiet.

It didn’t last long, because a pack of three neighborhood dogs noticed me and started barking before trotting over. They were friendly and all expected me to pet them and rub their heads when they put their muzzles on my lap.

I dubbed them the “Pingree Welcome Wagon.”

One of the dogs followed me all the way back to my car. The tag on his collar said his name was Chief.

I drove south into Buchanan and found the same quiet scene with hardly anyone around — it made me joke to myself that the rapture had come and I’d been left behind.

On a whim, I went into St. Margaret’s Catholic Church. I was looking at the church’s decorations when a deep voice with a North Dakota accent emanated from the choir loft.

“I hear footsteps,” Jon Johnson, the church’s organist, announced, nearly scaring me out of my skin.

I joined him at the top of the stairs, where he was finishing up with practice, and we talked for a bit. He told me that the congregation comes to St. Margaret’s from May through November, as do Catholics in Pingree. The rest of the year, they all go to St. Michael’s in Pingree, which has a newer building with better heating. By switching off in this manner, both parishes are able to stay open.

I left the church — after nearly falling on the stairs — and went down the street to Country Clipper. My hair had been getting a little on the shaggy side lately and I thought I could use a trim.

The shop was closed for the day, but the owner, Jan Lees, was happy to show me around her impressive garden, which features a windmill from a nearby farm. Its blades feature markings that are special to her, like the logo of the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Wing, the Happy Hooligans, in which her daughter Jacy serves, and John Deere, where her daughter Jenny works.

Jan Lees invited me inside to meet her husband, Kim, the mayor of Buchanan.

“Mayor and first lady,” Jan joked.

They told me a bit of the town’s history, like how it had been named Rio when it was founded in 1879 but was renamed in 1894 in honor of its founder, James A. Buchanan. His house still stands, just down the street, they said.

Buchanan also planted all the cottonwood trees in the area, Jan Lees said. Hearing that made me hate the guy, as nothing bothers my allergies as much as the fluffy seeds those blasted trees release every spring.

The Lees were getting ready to celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary, so I left to wander the town some more. I walked by “Mr. Buchanan’s house” and thought about the two little towns I’d visited that day.

Buchanan and Pingree were thoroughly tranquil and relaxing. To a young, single person like me, they probably wouldn’t seem all that intriguing and they don’t have all that much in the way of entertainment.

Parents looking for a place to raise a family, though, might see Pingree and Buchanan in a different light.

(Logan C. Adams is the assistant editor of The Jamestown Sun. He blogs at and can be reached at 701-952-8451 or by e-mail at ladams@

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2 Responses to Discovering Dakota | Buchanan, Pingree show simple honesty

  1. Steve says:

    Great story. It brings back good memories. Chief was my son James dog. Those three dogs certainly were friendly. Unfortunately, Chief was killed in an auto accident a couple of months after the story. James has another German Shepherd named Remmy.