An explanation of content…
When I started writing this column more than seven years ago, the subject was often the first thing that popped into my head. I still remember the first one I wrote. It was about my two uncles who fought in World War II. One was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and the other was killed in the Aleutien Islands.
In that first year, it was expanded to include everything from ice cream at the local Tastee Freez to the exploration of Mars. As time went on, I came to realize that a lot of people in North Dakota were reading this op-ed every week, so it didn’t take long to figure out that the focus needed to be North Dakota. That’s North Dakota in general. Each week I’ll try to write something specific to a community or region, but that isn’t always easy.
One time my column centered around a Christmas parade in Valley City and that employees of the Valley City Times-Record threw out 7,000 personal pizzas, one for every resident of Valley City who lined the streets. Another, more recent example, was about a farmer from Hazelton who found tobacco cans full of money when he was tearing down a house.
There were two specific people I wrote about, Kent Meidinger and Irvin Drath. Kent had this wonderful gadget called an ATR-75, made by Pioneer, that revolutionized how we listened to FM radio in our cars in the 1980s. Irvin worked in a grain elevator in Hazen and was a model employee to the Hazen Farmers Elevator and the community of Hazen. There were others but sometimes I’ll draw a blank and will deviate from that North Dakota theme and spill across the border. Two examples there were about the exploding crime rate in the city of Winnipeg and about a high school cattle drive in Springview, Neb.
These are the kinds of topics that intrigue people. I learned that a long time ago when I wrote a Monday column in the Minot Daily News called “On the Road.” I traveled all over the northwest, from Crosby to Minnewaukan, finding unusual and intriguing subject matter. One time I drove all the way to Medicine Hat, Alberta, to get a story about a guy who sculpts bricks into incredible religious art such as the crucifixion of Christ or the birth of Jesus. But it’s best to keep it within North Dakota’s borders whenever possible. Not only does that interest more people, but I get more feedback on who or what.
Unfortunately, I sometimes run out of ideas. Typically, I’ll write down a list, months in advance, brainstorming as it were, then try to build a story around that brainstorming session. Some of those ideas look like this: nature’s fury of Devils Lake, grain shipped out of state, sports teams that no longer exist, etc. The more interesting and more intriguing, the more people are going to read and comment.
A recent two-part series about the Mandan Milk Mystery explored nuclear explosions of the 1950s with people who contracted multiple sclerosis in today’s world. Unusual and obscure information is hard to find. For instance, I’ve tried to find out how much Canadian money went through the Bank of North Dakota in certain years in the 1990s, and it’s not available. Unless someone who was working at BND wrote it down, I’ll never know exactly.
There are a lot of good stories out there, but people are often reluctant to talk about something unusual or embarrassing. Case in point: somebody told me off record that caseloads of liquor would be stacked up on the Canadian border early in the morning and someone would drive up to it, load it, and north they went. Nobody would confirm that happened, so I don’t have a story to tell, but isn’t that intriguing?
Another is about a guy who repeatedly broke into the drug store in New Town. He wasn’t interested in opioids but was taking cigarettes and jewelry. The New Town Police Department was embarrassed since they couldn’t catch him, so they refused to talk about it to this reporter. That’s where my intrigue took over. I tracked this guy and his movements until finally, the Bismarck Police Department was able to give me a statement.
These kind of things are happening in North Dakota and that’s what I like to write about, including documented flying saucer landings near Minot Air Force Base. It’s a crazy world we’re living in, and if you have any of these stories and would like to share them, please email to (email@example.com).