Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, The Fair
I thought the county fair was probably on the way out back in the late
eighties. It seemed like most facilities were pretty worn out and
less and less people farmed which meant less exhibits. I think the
fair and the people who attend fairs have rediscovered they need each
In the early seventies, the fair was everything. One summer, I only
left the farm three times except for the fair so for me it was
socially huge. We always brought cattle to show so we had to make a
trip to the Marshall County Fair in Warren in the morning and at
night. The cattle were our 4-H project and part of the project was to
make sure the animal was properly taken care of at all times. We
would come to Warren early in the morning and that same night after
evening cow milking. Some of the animals were not as well-attended so
we would water them also. Yeah, if you were one of the idiots who
watered your cattle once a day while at the fair and were amazed that
they lived, it wasn’t magic-it was us.
At night, my mom and dad gave me a lot of money to walk the midway
with Ken Krohn and enjoy some rides. It was really a blast. Dad
always said it was the only recreation we got all summer so all of
their children enjoyed pretty free rein at the fair. The downside of
the fair was that I could see the end of summer and the confines of
school were only a few weeks away.
The fair started to look a little down as people found more mobility
and extra money. Mobility meant you could go anywhere for
entertainment and money sent more people to area lakes. Less people
were farming and therefore worked in town. This meant they had less
interest in farming and more discretionary money, and more time, to
enjoy themselves. I think maybe the fair wasn’t enough for these
folks and the fair suffered.
We are now a people bombarded with technology and options. We have
used both of these resources to complicate our lives to the point we
crave simplicity and a more simple life in which many grew up. There
is one quick way to find that life and it is at the fair. The fair
connects people to the most basic element in life-food. We can see
the animals that were used to operate farms, animals that were raised
for food and the crops that we all depend on for food an even fuel.
It is nice to go somewhere that reminds us of what we need. It also
reminds us that all of the other stuff we have is just stuff and not
needed. The fair is a place where we realize what we really need and
from where we originated. The fair and people need each other, the
fair really has a place in the summer.
If you went to the fair, I hope you had a good time. If you plan a
trip soon, please slow down through the exhibits of food, baked goods
and animals. They are examples of the simple things which you really
need. Oh yeah, if you see animals that aren’t watered regularly, go
to the fair board office and let them know. The fair can be a magical
place; however magic doesn’t water the cattle.
I’ve said my columns are sometimes well-planned meals and sometimes
hastily-prepared hotdish. I hope you like hotdish.
First off, the benefit for my brother, Steve Nelson, went great. The
benefit was held last Sunday at the Viking school. I have attended
several epic intramural basketball clashes between the Viking
Trotters and the Newfolden Dragons at this same elementary gymnasium
and attendance for these matches would not even come close to the
number who came to support Steve. Small towns may be small in size
but massive in heart. I think one incredible fact of the benefit is
that fully 1/3 of the class of 1975 came to support their one of
their own. My unofficial estimate is that we served sloppy joes to
approximately 550 people. We are so thankful to those who gave
support to this benefit-words fall short.
The second item I plan throw into the mix is a recent purchase. I
walked into Quality Farm Supply the other day and was offered a new
cattle gadget. I like gadgets but can typically resist them but when
you justify the gadget with application to cattle, my resistance is
futile. The “Vetgun” is basically a paintball gun that shoots
extra-large balls of insecticide at your cattle. The insecticide
lasts about 3-6 weeks and leaves a colored dot to show which animals
are protected. It delivers the insecticide ball at fairly slow speed
as not to hurt the animal from a distance of 15-30 feet. I think most
cattle people hate handling their animals because it is stressful for
everyone-even if you have a good corral. With the “Vetgun,” I can
just wander amongst the cattle and deliver 3-6 weeks of fly
resistance. Plus, and let’s be honest about this, it’s kind of fun.
I have spent the last several years working toward a goal of comfort
for my cattle. Comfortable cattle are more productive however I would
want them comfortable whether it makes money or not. This week my
efforts should really pay-off. A few years back, we installed a water
delivery system that provides cold water at a minimal walking
distance. Last winter, I built portable shade structures so that our
cattle could stay on pasture during the summer’s heat yet stay
comfortable. Our use of fly predators has greatly reduced horn flies
and my hope is that the use of my “Vetgun” will be a further
reduction in the insects that bother cattle. As summer returns with
heat and humidity, you might feel it is just plain hot. I hope that I
will bask in the warmth of happy cows and a plan that has truly
My words were pretty simple fare this week; I like to keep my columns
easy to digest in this heat. They’ll probably go down a little
easier than those corn dogs and jalapeno poppers from the fair.
Subject matter is always the hardest part of writing a newspaper column for me. This week it was pretty easy.
My brother is Steve Nelson. There are a lot of Steve Nelsons in the phone book so I will describe this one a little bit. Steve farms just north of Viking, Minnesota and owned Town and Country Meats in Newfolden last fall. Steve graduated the class of ’75 from Marshall County Central and is married to Jeana, who works as a nurse in outpatient recovery at Sanford Hospital.
Steve got sick a few years ago and has been fighting cancer since. It started out with esophageal cancer which paved the way for other cancers. If humanity has a natural enemy, I would say it is cancer. It seems to cause a particularly long and painful fight for those who are diagnosed and a terrific drain on the patient’s family.
We are planning a benefit for Steve this Sunday at the Viking School from four to eight that night. There will be a meal of sloppy joes, a silent auction, gun raffle, bake sale plus entertainment and the chance to congregate and talk. I hope you can make it.
There are so many people hurting from cancer and, fortunately, friends and family to help support them through benefits. It’s obvious I am particularly supportive of this one as Steve is my brother. However it is more than DNA that connect us. There are tangible acts and experiences we’ve shared that make his fight poignant to me. Steve worked with me endlessly to practice my football skills for the Punt, Pass and Kick competition when I was nine years old. No contestant was ever more coached and we won that one together. Steve took me to my first real movie also, it was “the Electric Horseman” starring Robert Redford and it was excellent. I still watch it every time it comes on television. Steve and I also participated in one of the most enjoyable exploits of labor ever created. Somewhere in the early eighties, we had to catch 250 pound calves several times to give them shots. We had no catch shoot so we’d just slowly move them around a hay feeder until we could catch them at a corner. I’d hurt my elbow arm wrestling that summer and re-injured it several times while catching those bundle of fur and fury but it was still sticks out in my mind as a pretty good time.
I hope you support as many benefits as you can, there are many in the newspaper and all worthy of full support. I’d like if you come to Viking Sunday night and include this benefit in events you support. Thank-you. (for more information on Steve’s benefit, please visit our Facebook page “Steve and Jeana Nelson benefit.”)
I have sought simplicity over the last few years. It is a slow process as you have to develop an appreciation for simplicity. One example might be when I enjoy the more subtle flavors of a hamburger served plain with just onions instead of every sauce and cheese known to mankind. I think people can come to enjoy simplicity in their lives when their focus is no longer on being the richest, the biggest or the most popular. It all comes down to acceptance of who your really are and perhaps the person you see in the mirror occupies a smaller space in the world than believes your ego.
Tom T Hall wrote the song “Little Bitty” which was later recorded by Alan Jackson. The lyrics of this song tells of the enjoyment of simplicity and that the greatest rewards are found in daily life such as “a little bit of beer and a television set.” Hall also wrote that “it’s alright, being little bitty,” which gives everyone the permission to enjoy their lives and not live their lives so that others are impressed. One of my favorite movie lines is from “Garden State” where one character utters the line, “I like being unimpressive, I sleep better.”
A second line from “Little Bitty” is “life goes on for a little bitty while.” I am going to back up this lyric with a line from William Shakespeare who said “oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” I see so many people living lies to impress others. They lie about their job, they drive a car or live in a house that speaks to wealth when the truth is the picture they present to the world is paper-thin and made of credit cards. The time spent to maintain these falsehoods is much greater than what a person is allowed on this earth. Just be yourself, I don’t care what you own other than your good heart and your good word.
I recently watched a documentary titled, “Tiny.” It details the life of one young man as he builds, then lives, in his own tiny home. A tiny home would be best described as a residence under 200 square feet-about the size of a nice, walk-in closet. The average family home has doubled in size from the period of 1970-2010, which is fine. However, the owners of these homes are sometimes a slave to maintaining these overblown statements of self to the point they can’t enjoy the structure nor the family who lives inside it. I think I would need some awfully compelling reasons to live this small however it is a lesson in how living small offers it’s own freedom to live your life and love simplicity. Without the financial burden of such a large home you are able to spend the time on yourself, your relationship with God, your family, your pets, your health, etc.
I’d like to say I hope I haven’t offended anyone with what I have said however that would not be truthful. It seems to me that growth often comes with some offense. When someone offends you with their opinion it forces you to defend your own beliefs (at least to yourself) or abandon them if they have no defense, or continue to live a lie. Living simply seems an easy defense and make sense-maybe sense enough to write a song.
I am not a person who enjoy riddles, procedural cop shows or any sort
of mystery. It’s unfortunate but I just finished a morning of
real-life “Clue.” Locating a short in the cattle fence often times
means some insulators were torn off the post by a deer or even a
broken insulators. Modern electric fence energizers can typically
handle a lot of weed load so I don’t even pay attention to grass
hanging on the fence. It took most of the morning but I finally found
the short, it was at a gate opening. I bet 90 percent of shorts occur
at either corners or gates and this was no different. Anyway, a
spring gate had flipped upside down and a piece of circled fence wire
about the circumference of a 50 cent piece was touching a steel
t-post which was easily fixed. Mystery solved! Morning wasted!
This next story Dave, is about an event that I approached from the
outset with a grim mind. Sunday night, a neighbor drove in and said
that there was a beer amongst the cattle. We have little calves here
with their mothers and I figured I’d find one killed by the bear as
soon as I got outside. Bears eat anything and this one must have been
determined as I tested the fence it went through and there was about
15 thousand volts running through it (two thousand volts is enough to
hold a cow.) I looked at the cows and they were all staring in one
direction and that was how I found the bear, in the trees just feet
from where the cattle graze. I haven’t hunted since I was about
twenty and really have no interest so it was in the interest of the
cattle and calves that I shot the bear. It was a male and I’d
estimate it was about 250 pounds and was the color of cinnamon. I
felt really bad about it but the law allows you to protect your pets
and livestock from wild animals and that’s what I did. I gave my
prayer for animals afterward and it was a quick death. The DNR came
and picked up the bear the next day, all the calves and their mothers
I liked the picture of the ride-on tractor you picked out for the
silent auction Steve’s benefit in Viking. I stand and stare at the
pedal tractors in Hardware Hank every time I need something and found
myself gawking at the picture you sent. I hope all is well your way
as the farmers attempt to complete three season’s worth of work in
just two. I have two small paddocks which I have not been able to
seed and that kind of drives me crazy. I cannot imagine what it is
like for someone who has many fields and not enough weather or time
to complete their tasks.
I will see you in July at the benefit.
You’re little bro’
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Larry Myhrer and a history of groceries in Thief RIver Falls Minnesota
The most important decision I make when grocery shopping at Hugo’s is which
lane I chose for check-out. My decision is based partially on speed but also about a little good conversation by someone who has something to say. At Hugo’s my choice is typically the sharp-looking gent’ with the gray hair and dark-rim glasses. I am talking about Larry Myhrer who is the
subject of this week’s column.
Larry Myhrer began working at Hugo’s Grocery in 1990 but has roots which go way
deeper. Myhrer started at the old Jim’s Hartz back in 1968 when it
was owned by Jim Winjum. In 1972, Dwight Tangquist purchased the
Hartz store which employed Myhrer until 1990 when he went to work for
Times change and Myhrer remembers the changes. He started out driving
to work in his dad’s 1954 Chevrolet pick-up but saved his hourly wage
of $1.60 until he was able to purchase his own Ford Galaxy 500. In the
late sixties you could purchase; the four roll pack of Charmin for
thirty-nine cents, bananas for 10 cents a pound and sixteen ounce
canned vegetables at 10 for a dollar. The special on canned
vegetables kept Larry so busy re-stocking that he got in a pretty
good work-out. When the time for the special ran out, Myhrer then had
to peel off the old sticker price and re-stamp all of those cans. No
UPC codes or computers, just gold old-fashioned labor.
Larry and I discussed the history of Dwight’s Hartz which was housed
in the same building occupied by Thrifty White Pharmacy. It’s amazing to think
how large the old Hartz seemed to me and now realize you could fit
several of them in the current Hugo’s building. Dwight’s Hartz even
had a restaurant located approximately where the check-out is for
Thrifty White. The cook was Tillie Sabol who was known around town as
a good cook. Larry was a young man back then and needed fuel to stack fifty pound
flour sacks to the rafters in the limited storage space. Larry would
occupy one of the eight stools and Tillie Sabol would feed him two
barbecues, a piece of pie with ice cream, two donuts and a soda for
In the early seventies, Dwight Tangquist purchased Mike’s Hartz in
Karlstad and Milo’s Hartz in Warroad. Larry Myhrer was in charge of
moving groceries from the Dwight’s Hartz location to the new stores.
He would sometimes drop-off small orders when he went to visit
friends. Larry delivered groceries to schools or churches and even
100 pound sacks of potatoes up the back stairway of the Elk’s Lodge.
Parking was limited back then and so shoppers parked their vehicles many
blocks away then men like Larry Myhrer would wheel their
groceries, long-distance. In the spirit of cooperation, stores like
Hartz would even deliver to competitors when travel conditions had
prevented deliveries. Larry told me the biggest change is that stores
used to close on Sundays out of respect. These were different times.
Time doesn’t change all things- Larry still likes his job and the people.
It’s the people that make his job enjoyable. He’s held to the belief
that if his work is done in the name of the Lord and done well, all
else would follow. It is a philosophy that has worked very well for
him-and his customers.