I come from a large family (Catholic, started off with identical twin boys of which I was unfairly the second or more likely misidentified as such). After starting our family with a matched set of boys you might think there would be a significant sanity break as new mom and dad learned the ropes, but actually the parade of children arrived on a fairly predictable basis until there were six of us. I think mom and dad were thinking six was a good number when – surprise – the child who finally completed the family arrived. Five boys and two girls.
Every year we would go on a family summer vacation trip. One of the common elements of our travels was our station wagon – a Ford Country Squire. It had lots of power with a 390 horsepower V8. In those days gas was $.25 a gallon for regular (premium was more, but we never bought it). All of the gas was “leaded” to get rid of engine knock. As I recall, gasoline smelled pretty good, though I didn’t make a habit of inhaling it and I don’t think inhaling things was at all common in those days. That Ford wagon went through a lot and shortly after the time when my brother and I were able to drive we took to calling it “Killer” because you could move the steering wheel several inches in either direction before the wagon would deem to respond by actually turning the car.
Despite showing its age, the Country Squire lasted for many years. In addition to being durable, it had – or lacked – a number of other noteworthy features. As I was writing this, I recalled that the Country Squire had no air conditioner. I was born late in 1953 and graduated from high school when I was 17 in 1971. It is probably during that period when auto air conditioning became common place because when I was a kid, almost nobody’s family who I knew had an air-conditioned car, it was an expensive luxury and who needed it when you had windows! (Not surprisingly, I understand it was much more common in the South).) Of course we had to crank the windows down on most of our cars while I was growing up (no electric windows for us). One exception that I recall is that dad controlled the rear window, which could actually be raised and lowered in that station wagon. This was such a great thing because we could get some air moving through the car to cool us down. It was especially useful when Dad smoked his occasional cigar as he drove. Little did we know that we were all being turned into idiot mutants because of the lead pouring out of the wagon’s exhaust and then being sucked into the car through that open back window? Except for the fact that we didn’t become idiot mutants. Who knows why? Lead is very dangerous. I had another 750-1000 words of little tidbits of life that were stirred by this photo but really, I doubt you would find it interesting. So much for my family growing up.
The funny thing is that the photo at hand stirred all of these memories and it isn’t all that closely related to those memories.
The photo above is not of a Ford Country Squire it is of a Chevy Wagon. It wasn’t taken 40-50 years ago in the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin where I grew up. I took this shot in Petersburg, North Dakota on a Christmas Day as my wife and I and our two dogs headed home after visiting her family in Minot for the holidays. I had never been to North Dakota as a child. In fact, when I was growing up we didn’t travel too very far from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area in the winter. However, this photo is here because a beautiful coating of hoarfrost had layered the trees in Petersburg (Pop. 192) and the area along Hwy. 2 and my very wonderful wife had agreed to let me stop at Petersburg for a short photo shoot before continuing down the road. I was able to get some nice photos in Petersburg, which generally seemed like a small but well-maintained town. I love this photo of the abandoned Chevy but I don’t think it is representative of Petersburg as much as it is of the decline of parts of the rural U.S.
So much for nostalgia, mention of Hwy. 2 in North Dakota brings to mind the fact that parts of rural North Dakota that used to be quietly out-of-the-way are now insanely busy. The same Hwy 2 we were driving along in eastern North Dakota and seeing only an occasional car just a few years ago is now almost impossible to even cross in Williston on the southwestern side of the state. Williston sits on top of the Bakken formation, which is a huge (possibly enormous) oil reserve. The resulting boom has brought a large and rapid population increase to Williston, ND as well as multi-thousand dollar rents (if anything can be found), ‘round the clock traffic along Hwy. 2 that makes it almost impossible to cross, workers housed in “man camps” and wealth beyond what many of the people working there ever expected. It has also brought misery for longtime residents who valued the slower growth taking place before the oil boom. It has been devastating for long-time low asset residents who don’t have the ability to participate in the boom (the elderly and disabled) as costs for everything have risen quickly while their incomes have not.