Dan Ulmer: Small towns have it all
Most folks from around the country think I’m from very small town America and since what you see depends on where you stand, they’re probably right.
Compared to my friends and peers in D.C. and most of the remaining states, Mandan is a pretty small town. But when compared to other cities in North Dakota, we’re the sixth largest city in the state.
My friends in D.C. and other major cities around the country can’t imagine how we survive without all the amenities that come with living in a megalopolis. I can never seem to convince them that, like them, we have just as many amenities and problems as they do, but ours are on a smaller scale. Usually the conversation ends with a patronizing nod before the topic changes, which is fine with me because what they don’t know is how much nicer life is here than there.
So what you see usually depends on where you’re standing. There are way more small towns than big towns in North Dakota and I need to admit that even though I’ve stopped by or driven through hundreds of them, I really am only fully familiar with two of them, Elgin and Glen Ullin.
For those of you who haven’t been west of Mandan or might need a refresher, the interstate town exits between here and Lake Tschida consist of New Salem, Almont and Glen Ullin. In order to arrive at Lake Tschida within an hour you need to take the Lake Tschida-Glen Ullin exit; of course, you could take the Glen Ullin-Hebron exit, but you’d be backtracking from here (btw – there have been a few times when our company missed all three of those exits and finally turned around at Richardton).
The staff at Glenn Ullin’s Wet Spot Bar usually set their watches when I walk in on Friday afternoon. Last Sunday I got a late start and missed breakfast at the Cenex store. The crew at NAPA usually wonder what unusual thingamag will fix some mechanical dimfobualtion that blew up, and the guy at the grocery store even carried out my groceries for me. So Glen Ullin has what I need on my way to the lake.
However, once I’m at the cabin I’m never interested in heading back to town until I absolutely have to. So when I have a serious problem where the parts might be hard to find I head to Elgin. Now I may be making an erroneous assumption, but I bet there’s a lot of folks around here that have never been to Elgin.
So let me tell you that so far I’ve been pretty much able to find whatever I’ve needed there, from food, drugs, an emergency room, post office, gas, bait, golf, lumber, and even bowling. And after years of trekking to Elgin I’m here to tell ya that in addition to Milt’s Lumber they have one of the best dang True Value Hardware stores around.
The staff there is stunning, especially this one lady who has thankfully been there every time I’ve walked in the store and her knowledge of plumbing, electrical, on and on and on always astounds me.
Last weekend I was in the midst of an outdoor plumbing project that required replacing four spigots. Thinking that True Value likely had something I could use, I headed there. I got into the store and started fumbling with spigots, fittings, reducers and about half an later I finally realized that I was in over my head, so I looked around for help and this aforementioned lady appeared.
In short order I explained my project, and in a couple of minutes she put a bunch of parts together and said, “This should work.” I concurred and we headed toward the till, and back to the lake, and she was right – her contraption worked out just fine.
So that would be my assessment of small town America, and I for one am sure glad they’re still around because I’m convinced that most of those folks know more about how to fix their own problems than we city folk will ever learn… and I sure enjoy getting to know them a bit.
Here’s hoping your travels take you to wherever you need to go…