Off the beaten path, where I always wanted to be...

I had long felt I was a country boy in a city boy's body. After learning I wasn't going to be drafted for Vietnam, I took the opportunity to purchase my uncle Martin Davidson's farm that was for sale in Roseau County, Minnesota. This 160 acre farm of dense woodland and flowing water resides in a township named after my great grandfather on my mother's side named Louis Palm, a Swedish immigrant, the first settler in the area. Owned by my mother's younger sister and her husband this farm was my favorite place to visit all the summers we came north to see her mother, sister, brothers and cousins throughout my childhood. This farm and the surrounding community embodied the mystery of natural timberland, open fields, creeks and rivers, and wild animals I would never see in Iowa including black bears and timber wolves. One of the best things I remember treasuring about it was that there were so few people. To me, it was like going back in time...

The city part of me was born in Des Moines, Iowa and lived there for 28 years before moving 600 miles "uphome," as my mother used to call this NW region of Minnesota. She was born a mile north of the farm I call, "Mickinock Creek," and attended a one-room country school called Palmville District 44 West (which still stands today as the Palmville Townhall). That schoolhouse/townhall stands on the SW corner of my quarter section, and the Palmville Cemetery, where my grandparents and great grandparents are buried, lays in its NE corner. I waited until I got the farm paid for,  in between time getting married to a high school sweetheart before leaving a job of 9 years and leaving for Roseau County with no job in hand when I arrived. 

Unknown to me, others of the area were leaving for jobs in the oil fields of Minot, ND. The main employer in the area for the past 20 years, Polaris Snowmobiles, then owned by Textron, had closed its doors and laid off hundreds of factory workers. Had I known I would not have taken the risk finding a job in a town as small as Roseau with so many suddenly unemployed people all vying for jobs close to home. However through the supreme efforts of a family friend, I was hired by the local Cenex farm service cooperative within a week that fall and was operating a brand new anhdydrous ammonia pumping station two miles south of the Canadian border near Ross, Minnesota. 

Ross Plant was literally a brand new, steel-sided single car garage on a two acre chunk of newly cleared field with no people around for miles. It smelled of fresh concrete and sprayed-on polyurethane insulation. Construction debris littered the empty stall, electric wiring scraps and short lengths of cut wire laid on the floor where they were tossed by electricians, scrolls of steel siding trim and specks of chipped paint nestled against the bottom of the closed overhead door. There were no chairs, benches, or shelves save for one large corner shelf built-in for use as the main office counter right inside the door, nor was there heat in the building the first ten days or so. (This was fall in extreme northwestern Minnesota)

Outside, beyond the building, a huge white above-ground storage tank held the anhydrous ammonia, "Liquid Nitrogen," that farmers used to fertilize their fields in the fall and spring seasons. Between it and the building were two upright pump station islands where four four-wheel anhydrous tanks could be parked alongside and filled. On the ground beside them sat two stock tanks filled with enough water that could immerse an entire human body if the need arise as liquid nitrogen can severely burn skin on contact or if inhaled, strangulate a person not wearing protective breathing masks. Pumping the tanks full always carried that element of risk, as did utilizing the material by the farmer. No one working with anhydrous ammonia could afford to be careless.

Reality settled in within a few hours: I had gone from a bustling city of over 300,000 people to a sleepy border town of less than 3000 and one traffic light, to a space in time where for the first week of operation I saw, other than my own shadow, only a fox and a moose. The northwoods silence bore in on me. My ears fairly throbbed for recognizable sounds. A pickup truck would drive by on the highway, 200 yards distant, without slowing down or turning in, and I was almost glad for it because I was thoroughly enjoying the isolation. I wouldn't think of bringing a radio or tape player (there were no CD/DVD/iPods/MP3 players --or cellphones-- in those days) I had made the right decision... 

I was where I was supposed to be. Here. Uphome...

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