The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

A recent letter from the Wadena County Historical Society’s Lina Belar began: “You are part of a colorful and fascinating history…”

It goes on to say: “You are a part of a wave of young dreamers who set their sights on a new way of life, owning a piece of land… in the 70’s.”

Yes I was. I remember going to work for Iowa State University after I graduated from there. Vietnam was behind me. In my desk to look at whenever possible were two publications: 1. The Herter’s sporting goods catalog; and 2. The United Farm Land catalog.

Herter’s was full of how-to-survive tips about fishing and hunting and boats and stuff. Using that catalog for a guide, we once boiled a snapping turtle whole in a huge tub. The meat was as tough as rubber. For the first time, I sensed some flaws in my worship of this book.

But the Farm catalog: Wow! It was full of dreams. Society as we knew it, so blissful after The Big One, WW 2, was torn apart by Vietnam. My generation needed a dream, and we got it from looking at what might be possible: Some affordable land, some place to call our own. Escape.

My wife and I were bearing down on Boatville, headed north on Highway 10 toward British Columbia, which would give a Vietnam veteran 40 acres, when we saw a United Realty sign on the side of the road, the arrow pointed toward this farm, upon which I now write this.

With nearly all the little money we had, we put the down payment on it, and dug in. On my list of things I wanted to do was refrigeration. But first to make the payments, I worked for the local co-op, learning some plumbing and heating, then for another similar business for another year, and when neither of them seemed interested in my goals, I took those goals with me and went into business on my own.

When we first arrived here, one of our first encounters with a local happened in the co-op grocery store. An older lady, grandmother age, a local school teacher, saw us and said, in a cold and brisk manner: “You’re the people who bought the Anderson place, aren’t you! I suppose there’ll be trouble!”

Ouch. Remember: At this time, in 1973, the youth from this area were all leaving, headed anywhere. For someone like us to arrive like we did–well, we must be hippies–and to my best knowledge, we were the first to break in here–it was a reminder that big change was happening. People routinely spoke Finnish on the street and in the restaurant and in the stores. Boatville was a closed society that was slowly showing some cracks in its solidity.

“They’re talking about us,” my wife at the time said, worried. No, they’re not, I replied; they’re farmers. They’re complaining about prices and weather and machinery and crops. Still.

Some memories: 

1. Looking around the gymnasium of the elementary school during a gathering, and seeing that our children were about the only brunettes in the hundreds of kids in the bleachers. The rest all blond-headed Finnish.

2. Trying on shoes in the coop’s shoe store, and realizing that all the feet around here were as wide as they were short. A sturdy folk, these farmers.

3. The trials of learning how to burn wood to stay warm during the winter, and smoke suckers to eat during the summer.

4. A boat building enterprise that began because Howard wanted a boat, and WW 2 had taken all the steel, so he had to use aluminum.

5. My first refrigeration call on my own, me hiding behind someone’s refrigerator with a book about refrigeration open secretly, trying to figure out why this refrigerator wasn’t working.

Finally, on a service call to Lina’s place over across from the Otter Tail River, I asked her who had built this house. “I did,” she replied. Who did the plumbing? “I did,” she said. How about the wiring? “Yes, I did.” To which I replied: Do you want a job? And she did. She was great help. We put plumbing and heating in new houses; we did a variety of stuff. But. Her working with me got tongues wagging.

A woman! With Lindy! What are they up to?!

And these contractor’s wives sniggled their little rumor-wagging words at my wife, and that was the end of Lina helping mej.

I guess one of the reasons those of us who tried to escape was to get away from stuff like this. And I guess that one of the first things I learned was that, although there were a few people who actively helped us new people, there were a few people who actively didn’t. There really is no escape from some of the less likeable traits of human society.

Yes. We were trouble. Hippies! Drug users! Probably wanted by the police somewhere!

I think along the way, I suspected that was their thinking, although had they seen how hard we newcomers were working, they would have realized there was no time to do drugs. Like I said, some folks helped. Maybe not actively, but not actively nasty either.

I didn’t realize that the locals called my hardware store Hippie Hardware–yes, I grew a pony tail later on–until it was done and auctioned off. I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner. I would have relettered the big sign on the front with it. Hung it out there for everyone to see. Flaunted it. Hippie Hardware. How absolutely great would that have been!

Now, 50-plus years down the road? Things have turned out pretty good. Really.

Hippie Hardware. I so wished I had known. My friends likely thought it would hurt my feelings to have known that. 

Not a chance.