It was a tiny town trip, a day-long spin that took us through some of the smallest towns in our area. It was another adventure, a bit different but in the same spirit as a trip halfway across South Dakota exactly a year ago. Like then, we were off to explore some of the least-known and often-overlooked roadside places and marvels that are usually side-stepped when racing to some other destination like the Black Hills or beyond. It’s all about seeing that subtleties of the landscape, the same landscape we see so often that it becomes commonplace, and unnoticeable to us.
Last Wednesday morning Jerry Ostensoe, Charley Thompson and I headed west, looking for some old familiar places and the big vistas up on the Coteau des Prairie on and near the South Dakota border. Our route took us first through Hazel Run (Pop. 59), then south to County Road 3, the road that stretches most of the length of Yellow Medicine County. That wide county gravel turns to pavement west of Highway 59, goes through the heart of St. Leo (Pop. 93) and then on to Canby, which with 1,701 souls, was the metropolis of our tour.
Jerry’s roots run deep in Canby where the old corner bank building on St. Olaf Avenue still has the faint “Ostensoe and Ostensoe” lettering on the window of the former upstairs law office. That was the law office of Jerry’s great-grandfather, Ole, and grandfather, Oliver. Jerry’s dad, Fred, later joined his dad, Oliver, in law practice in a street-level office down the block and around the corner, before moving his law practice and the family to Granite in 1960. Within a few years, Fred became the Yellow Medicine County judge, a post he held for many years here.
Our tour around Canby turned a few heads as we drove slowly by those old office sites, the central city park and the two houses where Jerry had lived as a youngster with his parents, Phyllis and Fred, and his brother Ken. After making a stop at the Canby cemetery where we searched for, and found, the graves of those early generations of Ostensoes, we headed west in hilly Florida Township (Pop. 123) and north through the unincorporated settlement of Burr, zig-zagging northwesterly across the roadbed of the long-abandoned Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (CNW) grade, crossing the into South Dakota as we entered the city of Gary (Pop. 224).
That scenic and hilly town holds some long memories, first as the closest destination for teenagers to legally purchase firecrackers and later, when our band, Good Time Rail Road, played for about 20 dances over a five-year span at the Gary Legion Club’s ballroom. After driving by the Buffalo Ridge Resort (on the site of the former SD School for the Blind) and other Gary sites, we stopped for lunch and a beer at the Alibi Bar on First Avenue, the same place where we used to grab late-night hamburgers before the drive home after a band job.
Afterward, we headed out of town to the northwest to find the huge remarkable double-arch, cut-block limestone tunnels that carry the former CNW Canby-to-Watertown railroad grade over Monighan Creek, a tributary of the Lac qui Parle River. We were in the upward limits of the Minnesota River basin, at an elevation of 1,600 feet, nearly twice that of Granite Falls. The view looking east from this high ground is amazing. At an elevation of nearly 1,600 feet you can literally see for miles and miles.
Coteau des Prairie was given by early French explorers to this long line of high hills that stretch from west of Sisseton, SD to near Worthington. A more recent name for them is the Buffalo Ridge, but by any name those hills offer an impressive panorama. That big vista, along with plenty of nostalgia, was fuel for our drive that took us a bit further north and west. We went into Revillo (Pop. 114) and northwest to LaBolt (Pop. 67) and then back east to Albee (Pop. 15) before crossing back into Minnesota near Marietta (Pop. 146), past unincorporated Haydenville, in Arena Township (pop. 153), through Madison (Pop. 1,417), unincorporated Lac qui Parle Village, in Lac qui Parle Township (Pop. 183), drive just south of Watson (Pop. 192) and on through Monte and then back home. A fine, day-long, trip it was, full of good laughs and plenty of entertainment. Who says you have to go to a big city to have fun?
To say that Jerry has many friends and admirers would be a big understatement. The turnout Sunday afternoon at the Bluenose Gopher Public House for the event celebrating the release of his latest album of songs was remarkable. There have been more than a few folks asking about getting a copy of his latest album, which is simply titled “Jerry Ostensoe”. With the opportunity to celebrate the CD album’s release on Sunday, folks turned out in droves, even though it was a cold, rainy day.
The music shared by area musicians was amazing and the outpouring of affection on Sunday for our local Minnesota River Valley troubadour was even more so. On Monday, the only word he could use to describe the event was “overwhelming”. And so it was. This new album is carefully conceived and finely crafted, capturing just the right feel, similar to a trip to nowhere in particular, through small towns and out-of-the-way places. Who doesn’t need an adventure like that?
Jerry’s new CD will be available for sale at the Grinder, Blue Nose Gopher Public House and the KK Berge Gallery in Granite.