Agriculture Alley

Weather: Partly cloudy and warm.

Little House on the Prairie... gone bad.
An Ansel Adams moment, on the road from Aberdeen to Huron.

Last Thursday, after our business in Aberdeen was done, Frogwing and I took a leisurely ride down South Dakota Route 37 to Huron. This is a road I call “Agriculture Alley”, because there are nothing but farms as far as the eye can see. The prairies are billiard-table flat, and the road is dead straight, all the way to the horizon. The only entertainment comes from the appearance of tiny towns at regular intervals along it’s length.

The towns along 37 are centered around a grain elevator and a couple of other support activities, usually including some sort of bar-n-grill to feed hungry farmhands coming in from the fields. Now, if a traveller wants to know anything about the history of a place, where better than the local watering hole to find out?

Ferney Farmers Bar & Grill... Ferney, South Dakota
The Ferney Farmers Bar and Grill… Ferney, South Dakota

I mean, some “journalists” busy themselves digging through musty old documents in the basement of the county Hysterical Society or library, and that’s all well and good. But if you want to know what’s really going on, and hear the best stories of days gone by, just buy the local geezer a drink, settle in, and listen as he proudly delivers his collection of myths and legends, gathered over a lifetime in a small town.

This is the way history was passed down in the old days, the Grand Oral Tradition. It may not always be strictly accurate from a factual standpoint, but it is guaranteed to be a whole lot more interesting than what you will find in the archives of some long-dead local newspaper.

Take these three fellows, for instance…

Robert, Irvin, and Clem; The Country Corner Club.
Robert and Irvin Troske, with Clem Becker… The Country Corner Club.

If I hadn’t been on a business trip, I might have settled in for a few hours playing cards and soaking up the local lore of Turton, South Dakota. They certainly weren’t in any hurry. “Ted’s Country Corner” was a local cafe that had fallen on hard times, when these three old gents and one other fellow chipped in and bought the place.

These men are all in their seventies or older, and I’m pretty sure they have no intention of running a profitable business here. They just needed the grown-up equivalent of a clubhouse, where they can get together for their afternoon card games and hang out just like they did when they were kids. I enjoyed the short time I shared with these distinguished country gentlemen, and I hope to visit them again someday.

So Frogwing and I poked around quite a bit that Thursday afternoon. Every time we approached the dirt road leading to a little farm town, we turned off the highway and headed for the water tower. That’s the rule I go by, when investigating small human settlements. Water is a precious commodity, and we tend to put our water towers close to the center of our lives and communities. If there is anything worth seeing in a small town anywhere, you will probably run across it on the way to the water tower.

This is how we met up with The Dinosaur.

Dinosaurs still roam the South Dakota prairies.
Dinosaurs still roam the South Dakota prairies.

I was astonished when it came into view around the backside of an old barn. I don’t remember which town we were in, because I was too rattled to take notes. Notice how it tries to blend in with the foliage. The thing was either sleeping, or waiting for us to come close enough so it could pounce, I don’t know which.

At first I thought it looked like one of the first tanks to appear on the battlefield in World War I.

But then I realized that it was some ancient agricultural wonder; an implement of great utility and… oh, what the hell. I have no idea what it is, or was. But it sure was big. Modern art, if you ask me.

Anyway, that was the trip from Aberdeen to Huron. At the end of it, I checked into the Crossroads Hotel, ate a light dinner, and fell into a sound sleep just after the sun went down. In the morning, I would audit the Huron plant, and after that Frogwing and I would begin our weekend odyssey across the Great Plains to Fort Pierre, and beyond.

17 Responses to “Agriculture Alley”

  1. bro shagg Says:


    I don’t know why you can’t write for a magazine. The above post and pics make for a great “article”. Hell, the mag would be getting two for the price of one- writer AND photographer…

    Bro Shagg

  2. Eric Says:

    I’m not a big fan of the wide open prairie, but the last few entries of yours have really made me wish I was out there right now. This entry particularly. Your writing makes me, and I would assume many others, want to ride. Everywhere. Geat work, cousin.

  3. Tom Staggs Says:

    I lived in SD for about 4 years in the late 70’s. With the Air Force I traveled all over the area to the missile sites. I loved these small towns and deserted farms. What I did not love was the cold and unforgiving winters. The small resturants and bars are great.
    Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  4. jim Says:

    Marc S is right on. The amish around Hazelton and, Oelwein Ia. still use them also. In fact my grandpa owned one and my dad used to travel from farm to farm operating it.
    bro shagg said it all, he is correct about your writing and photography.

  5. Gary Charpentier Says:

    I’m going to answer you all together this time.

    Threshing machine! Of course… Thanks Marc.

    All I know is that it looked big and imposing out there, and it appeared that it was left there as yard art, while the vegetation grew up around it. Does anyone here know how old that thing is?

    (The following are MY opinions, and do not reflect the views of Ride to Work .org in any way.)

    As for the magazine thing, well, I DID write for a magazine. Of course, I’m talking about MMM. But it cost me more to research the stories I wrote for Backroads Diary than they were willing to pay. Then they cut off all the ‘interesting’ road tests, and started using their “borrowed Brit”, Neale Bayly. That was the last straw.

    No, Milquetoast Motorcycle Monthly is in decline, under the heavy hand of Team Strange and Company. It is a sad thing to see. But as I have always said: Nothing Cool Ever Lasts.

    On a happier note, David Edwards of Cycle World emailed me after I applied for a staff position, and said they would be happy to consider any freelance submissions from me. Hey, it’s a foot in the door anyway…

    I’m going to hang out with my girls tonight, and continue the Prairie Saga tomorrow. I’ll check back from time to time and answer your comments as they come in.

    Ride well,

  6. Dan Flittie Says:

    So how did I do Gary?

  7. Gary Charpentier Says:

    You did fine, Dan. I followed your guidelines and had a wonderful trip.

    Although, as you will see in tomorrow’s entry, the Wild West is becoming tamer and lamer every day. As soon as Walmart and Starbucks come to town, you can pretty much forget any notion of originality.

    Except for the surrounding countryside, Pierre looked to me like Anytown, USA. No armed cowboys and Indians wandering the dusty streets, and I did quite a bit of riding out in the ranch country without ever once getting shot at. I’m saving the rest for the blog entry.

    Ride well,

  8. phil ford Says:

    With steam tractor belching and flat belts flapping, threshing WAS a sight to behold. Saw it once as a demo when I was a kid and it became readily apparent how dangerous those labor saving devices could be.

    I never got around to reading MMM regularly, when I did it was sometimes great, sometimes ‘eh’…

    I’d love to read your stuff in CW. But in the meantime, I’m really enjoying reading you here.


  9. jim Says:

    Just a guess, but I think thresher was built in late 20’s to early 30’s

  10. Mad Says:

    Again, I’m fascinated by your pictures and the story of the places you rode through. Great post Gary, can’t wait for more.

  11. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Phil, I can see it in my mind quite clearly after reading your description. Yes, that definitely fits with the stories I heard from both Mr. Troske’s and Mr. Becker.

    Jim, I’ll bet you’re right. It has that look about it.

    Mad… Thank you.

    You know, you could do the same for me, and all of the rest of us yanks, over there. Remember when I was asking for shots of auld towns and pubs, sometime during the winter? Now’s your chance, mate! Ride out there and capture it all for us. Which reminds me… whatever happened to Tiff? Haven’t heard from him lately…

    Ride well,

  12. Mad Says:

    Yeah I really must get more pics when I ride out, I have bad tendency to forget the camera. Show you guys some of this beautiful country I live in.

    As for Tiff I emailed him but heard no reply, maybe I had the address wrong. Shame, he works about .5 of a mile from my new job, we could have had a ride out really easily.

  13. Steve Williams Says:

    I agree with bro shagg—you could publish this work and in a place that pays more that it costs to create it. Good writing and storytelling.

    I thought this was a work trip? Where’s the work?? *grin*


  14. ted Says:

    Hi I am Ted from teds country turton sd..the gentleman playing cards still come every day..however they bought the building years before i came and started the bar and restaurant.. I have been here for over two years now and am doing well..However I am the sole owner of the business..Please stop by again and have a great steak…Thank you TED

  15. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Thanks for writing in. My little tour of the town yielded only rumor and innuendo. Some lady standing on a ladder, painting her house, told me that a bunch of old gentlemen owned the place. Then I went over and met them, and the story grew from there.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding…

    I may take you up on that offer, sometime in late autumn, if our schedule holds. Watch your email…

    Ride well,

  16. Tim Troske, Ventura CA Says:

    Two of those three country gentlemen are my uncles! Before it became Ted’s it was called the Corner Station. Thirty years ago, when I was a city kid spending summers working on their two farms, going to the Corner Station was a big treat.

    Venture into any windbreak in farm country and you’ll find plenty more dinosaurs! Good post-lots of potential for a good magazine article. Thanks!

  17. camille Says:

    you captured the small town feel well. My dad and uncle are in the cafe picture. I live in Seattle now, and we are probably going to move back to south dakota, and when my friends ask “WHY?”, I will just politely give them your blog. It takes experiencing it to understand it…