Golden Valley – the town that met the rail company halfway

Incredible marketing and entrepreneurship in 1900 started the happy little town of Golden Valley. Out of nothing, the town started and grew – and to this day Golden Valley gives you a reason to pull off Highway 200 between Hazen and Killdeer.

The disappearing tribute to North Dakota's indigenous people -- the Indian Head State Highway Sign. Just one or two remain along Highway 200 near Golden Valley.

The disappearing tribute to North Dakota’s indigenous people — the Indian Head State Highway Sign. Just one or two remain along Highway 200 near Golden Valley.


We like stopping there because it has a peaceful and protected feel to it. Nestled in a valley, noise, weather and outside traffic is minimal.  Plus, it has a couple of interesting shops for browsing and a great little place for food and libations.

snowy hilllside at Golden Valley North Dakota

Sunrise at Golden Valley, North Dakota

The town is a tribute to perseverance and entrepreneurship.

George V. Bratzel took lemons a corporation served him and turned them into proverbial lemonade.  He was a rail agent for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Hebron, North Dakota. The company shipped him to the far end of the state, to Beach.  Then, yanked him back to Hazen a couple of years later and fired him.  It turns out his supervisor at the railroad wanted his son to have a job, so Danielson was fired to make room for the son.

“Ha!” Bratzel said. “I’m just gonna make my own town!”

Northern Pacific told him, “Go right ahead, and we’ll build a rail line to your town.”

(I suspect NP didn’t think Bratzel would succeed – but he did.)

Bratzel searched for a location for his town; he traveled and surveyed the prairie north of Hebron, North Dakota. One late summer day, he spotted a valley about 40 miles north of his home. The colors of the valley were – you guessed it, golden.  And since the initials of his first and last name were GV, he named the town Golden Valley.

The First Golden Valley before it was moved next to the Northern Pacific Rail Line. (from the ND Historical Society collection.)

The First Golden Valley before it was moved next to the Northern Pacific Rail Line. (from the ND Historical Society collection.)

He called the Northern Pacific on its bluff, and it responded.  It built the line along the best route engineers could find.  It was about one-and-a-half miles from where George had set up his town. So again, turning those lemons into lemonade, he picked up the town and moved it to the railroad.

From NDSU library: paul-weiracuk (left) and james-opsahl (right) at the weiracuk homestead near golden valley-

From NDSU library: paul-weiracuk (left) and james-opsahl (right) at the weiracuk homestead near golden valley- Permission of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, ND –

He promoted the town heavily, even sponsoring a free dance for all the region’s ranchers and farmers.  Isolated across the rolling prairie, families, as well as single men, looked for any chance they could find to socialize. A community dance, in 1914 was a rare event. That’s why all the neighbors from across the rolling prairie and distant towns came to see what he had built — Golden Valley. Some even moved to the new town.

Golden Valley about 30 years after it was moved to be near the RR tracks.

Golden Valley about 30 years after it was moved to be near the RR tracks. Permission from the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, ND –

Once the town was set up along the tracks, farmers brought their grain to town where they could make more money than if they hauled it many miles down the road.  They were willing to work for it even without a grain elevator.  They loaded rail cars one shovel at a time, pitching their grain from their wagon into rail cars.golden-valley-grain-elevator-at-sunrise

Later, the grain elevator was built and the town became a commercial and transportation center.  One of the more successful businesses was an earth-moving company that did much of the work on the Garrison Diversion projects.

One of the success stories of the region is marked with an antique truc.

One of the success stories of the region is marked with an antique truck.

Now the town’s main draw is the Saddle Sore Saloon where festivities are hosted, even outdoor street dances and wedding parties.

The Saddle Sore Saloon in Golden Valley is the central gathering point. The Saloon’s Facebook Page includes this photo and other like it.

For example, on Valentine’s Day, the dining room serves Prime Rib with baked potato, salad bar, and a desert for $24.00.


From the Saddle Sore’s Facebook page, a summer evening collection of motorcycles and vintage cars.






Across the street from the Saddle Sore is a curio store, a flea market of antiques and collectibles.

Across the street from the Saddle Sore is a curio store, a flea market of antiques and collectibles.

golden-valley-gas-pumps-nov-2016-copyAround the corner, one of the most brilliant Gems in the United States – a Harley-Davidson museum, with a motorcycle from each year – all of them in running order and operational.  The museum is bright, clean, and more impressive than most small town museums of any sort.  Ya gotta know the guy, to see it. It’s his private collection, but he’s willing to open it to let you in.

The private collection of Harley-Davidson motorcyles is a worthy attraction to the community.

The private collection of Harley-Davidson motorcycles is a worthy attraction to the community.

That’s why motorcyclists who like to explore the 2-lane highways of the prairie can put this on their destination list.  Anyone who likes photographic road trips, any time of the year will be rewarded with a trip to Golden Valley.  They may give a tip of the hat to tribal elder, historian and businessman August Little Soldier who did much to provide industry to the Three Affiliated Tribes.

And give a tip of the hat to the famous roadside bronc of Wayne Herman world bareback rider who will greet you.



Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show


Late nights meant burning the midnight oil — and wood — to get frames ready for the show.

What a surprising opportunity!

It’s crunch time producing exclusive handmade frames to go with matted photos for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  North Dakota barn board, North Dakota images, North Dakota art — I’m fortunate to be one-quarter of the show at the little coffee shop and cafe on the east side of Bismarck.

It’s a win-win-win.  The Blue Collar Cafe gets more traffic, four artists get more exposure and Black Friday shoppers get original handmade art at ridiculously low prices.  If the same products were in Macy’s or Daytons, they’d be hundreds of dollars.  But here, only tens of dollars.

I visited with Jerod Hawk earlier this week when the idea was kicked about.  Within an hour Hawk had lined up four artists to set up on Friday at his little coffee shop and cafe. That was Tuesday. Now here it is Thursday and we’re almost ready to throw open the doors to throngs of people who want a piece of North Dakota.

Since the idea first took hold,  I’ve been keeping the wood fires burning in my wood shop making frames.  .  As it is, I have mass-produced hand-made frames for an inventory, but not as many as I would have liked for this little show.


The abandoned Pettibone Elevator at Lake Williams is one of my favorite pieces that will be on display at the Blue Collar Cafe art show on Friday.


From near Rugby, this abandoned farmstead is wrapped in a barn board frame from a barn near Good Rich.

Tuesday and Wednesday I started the work of matching photos I had on hand to the frames I thought would work.  I think I went about it backwards. I first should have selected the prints, then built the frames to fit.


Color looks good in the barn board frame from a 100-year old barn near Goodrich on the left, and in a frame from a 100-year old barn that once stood near Almont

Either way, it was crunch time. I turned my kitchen in to a matting and framing shop.  I brought in all the frames I thought would work from my wood shop.  Then I started matching prints to frames.

A couple of quick trips to Bismarck and I bought a few pieces of glass and some mat board.  I would have liked more, but time was running out.    Wednesday I put in some 12 hours framing and matting. Sadly I got in to so much of a rush I ended up damaging three prints and throwing them in to the trash.  A couple of my larger print were damaged and so will only be on display as examples, but not for sale. They’re not “perfect.”  Mats were crooked, images warped.  *groan*


Wilton’s Soo Line Depot, also 100 years old (1910) is framed in 100-year-old wood from a barn near Goodrich.

So, here it is Thanksgiving days.  Just as the other three artists and Hawk are doing, we’re dedicating a portion of the day to getting ready for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  It’s a first, so we don’t know what to expect, how much room we have or how many people show up.


Grain bins from near Regan in barn board from a 100-year old barn near Almont will be at the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.

Here’s your invitation to joins us. 135 Airport Road, Bismarck, just across the RR tracks from Krolls Diner, one block south of Main Street in East Bismarck.

Come on down!

October 7 Cuttin’ corn

Binder down the dusty road

I could smell it when I drove the back roads looking for a photo of the day.  Somewhere some place, someone was cutting corn silage.  It’s an unmistakable sweet, wet/sweet smell.  Growing up in the Tall Corn State of Iowa, I grew up with the smell, knew it well.

Then I saw the silage truck headed back out to the field to get another load.

Dumping silage in to a truck

Silage cutting

There he went, down the road out in to a field where a silage cutter was taking care of the corn field, getting it cut and chopped to feed cattle all winter.  The trucks drove out in to the field to get a load dumped in to the box from the wagon pulled behind the tractor and silage cutter.

There musta been a half-dozen trucks keeping up with the tractor and cutter, hauling to a silage pile about 3 or 4 miles down the road.

I learned this was a neighborhood cutting bee. The owner’s wife was gravely ill and he was spending his time and money on her and her medical treatment.  So, the neighbors got together and  did the farmer’s work for him.

That’s the way it is out here.  We may not agree on everything, and sometimes downright disagree, but doggone it, when someone needs help, we’re there.  That’s what these neighbors did…they were there for the farm family. Not only did they supply material relief and help, their involvement in their neighbor’s plight musta been an encouragement to the farm family.

Would you agree? Sometimes it’s not what you do for someone, but just the fact you did something that really counts?

August 25




Nebraska has a pretty good graffiti artist, wouldn’t you say?  This grain car near the Wilton Grain Farmers Union Elevator is waiting for a load of grain, and is displaying the artwork some busy artist added.  I often wonder why no one around here adds their touch to the grain cars?  Is it a matter of respect?  Of lack of inspiration?  What is it?

Actually that’s the question I ask most of the time when I see the graffiti, “What is it?”  Or, “What does it say?”  I can’t read it, but this one I could, “Nebraska” and the encouragement to add other states.

Down the line a bit further another artist added his or her work, and this one I could recognize, also.  It’s a bulldog.

Can you read what it says by the bulldog? Over here on the left is an isolated image of that same thing. Let me know if you figure it out.

August 22


a load of gold

There on the truck is what will be eaten in not very long.  You might even be the one to eat it.  Or it might go to a relief effort in South America, Africa or elsewhere.  This farmer has just unloaded a hopper of grain in to his truck. Before he can unload more, someone will have to take that truck in to unload, maybe at his farm or in town at the grain elevator.   He probably won’t stop combining though, and will keep adding the nation’s stores of grain.


August 21


Lined up at Wilton Grain Elevator


It’s that time of year when farmers haul their grain to market.  But unlike in years past when a tractor and flair-box wagon hauled the grain, farmers today use semi-trucks to get their crop to town.


Unrolling the tarp


Drivers pull their trucks up under the sampling auger. They unroll the covering tarp so several samples can be taken.  From that, the grain is evaluated and given a grade to determine the purchase price.   Then the pull in to the line to wait their turn to dump the grain from the belly of the trailer in to the elevator hopper where it is stored until sent to a mill elsewhere in the U.S.

Today, I had to weave my way through the trucks along the road, but I don’t mind. I like the sensation of  harvest. The mammoth combines in the field to the large trucks at the elevator it’s a massive job, much different from the days when I grew up on the farm with a tractor pulling the combine and a tractor hauling the wagons to town. It’s one more step in the process of feeding the world, a job that North Dakota farmers do with superior results.

June 23

They must be travelers pausing on their way through little old Wilton. The sides of those rail cars, like passports, bear the stamps of far away places where they’ve stopped and been marked. The artistry renders the language in to a cryptic cipher.  I struggle to read them, but to someone I’m sure they mean something, perhaps a branding of a network, a neighborhood, a gang, or  just an expressive person.Eventually, they end up parked at Wilton near the grain elevator waiting to get loaded so they can go back to the home turf of the artist who branded these cars.

I imagine the patient work that goes in to rendering the straight lines, the shadows, the depth.  I imagine cardboard used as edging and a whole lotta shaking of the cans as the artists rough out what it is they’re trying to say.
Around here, graffiti artists just aren’t that creative. They grab a can of spray paint and spray their graduating year, and that’s it.

June 8

Adding on to the elevator

Adding on to the elevator

The Wilton Farmers Union Elevator is adding on this spring. That’s a good sign. With as many abandoned grain elevators out here on the prairie that have been left behind when the railroads abandoned small towns, it is good to see one small town elevator adding on.

At one time there were several elevators in Wilton on the rail line. Now, they’ve been incorporated in to one large system.  Just one grain bin in today’s elevator is as large as that first elevator that was built here in 1900.

March 15

Quick! Catch it before it’s gone! Those last golden rays of the day.

The Golden Hour is a photographer’s gold mine.  If prepared, a shooter can find the right place to wait for the light to turn to gold.  Waiting too long and it’s gone.  The Wilton Grain Elevator is a perfect example of how the golden hour casts its glow on the scene.  Notice how the sky and the snow are already turning dusky lavender?  The elevator soon would follow, but at just that moment, I got to catch its reflection of the sunset.

Two of the three egg-shaped spires of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Wilton were my first images of the day to try to capture at sunset, the golden hour. Soft and gentle against the pink sky, they make a sharp contrast with the sunset lavender in the clouds.

Still, though it was the grain elevator that caught my eye and I fell left the best example of  The Golden Hour.

March 11

A foggy southern horizon

My hunt for my day’s photo today was not as thrilling as in previous excursions.  On the eastern edge of Wilton is the older of the two grain elevators.  It was one of several that once stood in Wilton in the 1920’s.  A 1922 story in the Bismarck Tribune said Wilton’s Elevators could e seen 14 miles away.

Not today, they couldn’t be seen. The fog from just a few blocks away nearly obscured the top of the elevator.

To the north, Wilton’s newer grain elevator is also capped in fog.  The power lines running north past the elevator disappear in the fog.

I’m so tired of fog.

a foggy northern horizon