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7/18/2007 – News

Volume 124, Number 24            Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Baker Trading Post one of few small stores still operating
BY KELLY SMITH The Forum (Fargo, ND)
The peeling white-painted screen door at the front of the general store squeaked shut. Elvin Randle strolled in wearing thick denim overalls over a blue shirt and carrying a bucket of freshly cut rhubarb.

Ardis, his wife of 56 years, stood near the antique register at the front of their general store, which has operated in the tiny town of Baker (population seven) for 52 years.

"It sounds like it’s been a long time," Ardis Randle said, "but time goes fast."

You might miss the town if you didn’t know to look for it along the dirt roads and open fields of central North Dakota.

Thirty miles outside the nearest city is a small patch of buildings and a scatter of large pine trees, remnants of a town now vacated.

That’s Baker, ND.

It used to be an established town with about 40 people, the Randles said. Baker had its own post office with 17 mailboxes, a beauty shop, bar, church, pool hall, bank, two grain elevators — and a general store opened in 1912.

You might miss that, too, because it doesn’t have a sign. But Baker Trading Post, the modest white-washed general store owned by the Randles since 1955, is one of the few buildings left in this small town in western Benson County.

The Randles’ store is a dying breed. Before SuperTargets and megawarehouse grocery stores, there were small-town locally owned general stores. Baker Trading Post is one of the few still standing, persisting decades after most of its customers moved on.

"When we first came here, there were a lot more people around," Ardis said in a heavy Norwegian accent. "When the town first started, it was a big town."

Now it’s just the Randles and two other neighbors.

They are good-humored about their life in rural North Dakota. The sign marking the town says "Baker: POP 7 and three dogs."

Most people their age would have retired long ago. But the Randles like to keep busy.

Elvin, 82, and Ardis, 76, continue to work around the house and at their store. Elvin’s hearing is their only health complaint.

As Ardis chatted on the cord phone to her granddaughter, Elvin walked past the wood shelves stacked with cans of soup, cereal, cake mixes, one roll of toilet paper and two bottles of ketchup, among other items. They don’t offer fresh produce or meat anymore.

An old safe and desk sit in the corner of the store, dating from the early 20th century.

"It gets filled quick," Elvin joked about the safe.

Four bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling of the dim one-room store.

The Randles said they still have about 25 loyal customers who drop by to pick up a few groceries occasionally, as well as hunters in the fall.

"It’s pretty quiet," Ardis said. "We don’t have enough people around here no more.

"We really should lock up."

But they haven’t.

The simple store with its hardwood, unpolished floors and antique red Coca Cola cooler is still open every day.

They don’t have strict hours. Ardis opens the store when she gets up in the morning and closes it when she goes to bed. They live in a house attached to the back of the shop.

"We just go a day at a time," she said.

If they decide to close it for the day while they run errands in nearby Rugby or visit their grandchildren in West Fargo, they just make a few calls to inform their customers. And when they do, they don’t have to make many calls.

"We’re the best customers," Ardis said, hooting with laughter.

Though when their grandchildren visit, they sell them candy bars or pop.

"We make money off them," Elvin joked.

While the town has long been empty, the couple still have no plans to leave Baker anytime soon.

"We can live pretty cheap here," Ardis said.

And it’s home.

Ardis and Elvin were both born within a five-mile radius of where they now live.

"We’ve known each other our whole lives," Ardis said.

They grew up among the grassy, rolling hills nearby. Ardis finished high school; Elvin did not. She worked in an office in town and he worked in construction, building pole barns and houses. (He’s built many of the homes around where they live now.) They were married in 1951 and because of Elvin’s job, they moved all over — from Nebraska to Montana to cities across North Dakota.

Then they moved back to the central part of the state.

"We wanted to stay closer to home," Ardis said. "We got tired of moving all the time."

They had four children who grew up helping out in the store; three still live in the state.

Ardis and Elvin say they’re retired, but "some days we get kind of bored. I can’t sit still," Ardis said.

So they keep busy. They maintain their garden in front of their house with potatoes, strawberries, beets, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. They manage the store. They attend their seven grandchildren’s activities. And Ardis bakes. She’ll wake up at 4 a.m.

to start baking buns.

"You name it, I bake it," she said.

You’ll still find canned and boxed goods in the general store.

They’ll still sell you gas out of the retro gas tank, next to their mailbox that’s stuck on a post into an old milk tin.

And they’ll still chat with you about the golden days of Baker.

"It’s pretty quiet (around here)," Ardis said. "It’d be nice if (the

town) was back. But that’s not possible."

The old general store is more than a remnant of a simpler time long ago. It’s a symbol of the Randles’ lives.

"It keeps us home," Elvin said. "We won’t move."

Ardis grabbed the rhubarb Elvin brought and started on a homemade rhubarb cream pie as the store’s screen door creaked shut.

"(If we closed the store) we wouldn’t know what to do," Ardis said.

"You used to have a store in every town. But no more."

This story was originally published Sunday, July 8, 2007 in The Sunday Forum at Fargo.

Ardis Randle, right, stands in front of the cash register while Elvin Randle walks in from the garden to their general store in the tiny town of Baker. The Randles have owned the store for 52 years. Photo by Jay Pickthorn of The Forum (Fargo, ND).

Graduates of 50 years ago

Several members of the Esmond High School Class of 1957 gathered at the Esmond Eagles Alumni Center the afternoon of July 14 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation. Left to right are LaVerne Wolf of Minneapolis, Minn., Eileen (Heisler) Evanson of Mayville and Arizona, Raymond Heisler of Golden, Colo., Dorothy (Reierson) Adam of Langdon, Paul Neis of Devils Lake and Fr. Bernard Pfau of New Rockford. The weather cooperated fully for the event.


Paul Neis of Devils Lake (center) entertained on the accordion at the Esmond Eagles Alumni Center Saturday afternoon. Classmates encouraging him were, left, LaVerne Wolf of Minneapolis, Minn. and right, Dorothy (Reierson) Adam of Langdon.

Attend seminar

Teachers became students at an educational seminar conducted by the Lignite Energy Council June 19-21 at Bismarck State College. As part of the seminar they toured the Falkirk Mine, the Beulah Mine, the Antelope Valley Station, the Coal Creek Station, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, the Center Mine and the Milton R. Young Station.

Area teachers attending the seminar were, left to right, John Ward of Carrington, Jennifer Hoffman of Fort Totten, Mary Turk of Fort Totten, Sharlena LaBrie of Fort Totten and Matthew Swanson of Leeds.

SasKota Bowl pits ND 9-man against Saskatchewan 9-man football all-stars
Editor’s Note: The following article is taken from the July 3 issue of the Grand Forks Herald. Senior graduates from Maddock, Mark Wack Jr. and Jordan Backstrom, played for the North Dakota team which lost 26-22. Backstrom was named offensive player of the game for the North Dakota team.


Herald Staff Writer

Rolla’s Davy Zinke says the Saskatchewan all-star football players are fired up because the North Dakota 9-man all-star team defeated them 16-1 last year.

Hold it, 16-1?

That’s right, one point can be awarded in some of these international football games.

On Saturday, Rolla hosts the fourth annual SasKota Bowl, a summer all-star football game between North Dakota 9-man football players and a 9-man all-star team from Saskatchewan.

The SasKota Bowl alternates sites between North Dakota and Saskatchewan. When the teams play in North Dakota, standard North Dakota 9-man rules are used. But when the teams play in Saskatchewan, Canadian football rules are used.

Last year, Saskatchewan scored only on a rouge — when a team punts the ball past the opposing team’s goal line for one point. It also can be called a single.

Other Canadian rules that are different from North Dakota 9-man rules:

— On offense, a player can start in motion at any time.

— On defense, players line up a yard away from the football.

— Goal posts are located in the front instead of the back of the end zone.

"It’s a whole new thing," said Zinke, whose team has won the first three SasKota Bowls. "To me, it’s different than the Shrine Bowl because this is country versus country. It’s international."

North Dakota won the first SasKota Bowl 26-7, which was held in Foam Lake, Sask., in 2004.

This year, the Saskatchewan team is bringing 35 players and seven coaches to Rolla.

"They’ve been good games," Zinke said. "The (Saskatchewan team) is competitive. They don’t like to lose."

Some of the players hope to get noticed by college recruiters in the game. Others just want to play football one last time.

"I think it’s an honor to get chosen out of all the seniors and have a chance to get to play against another country," Maddock’s Jordan Backstrom said. "The way I’m looking at it is it’s a chance to play another game."

The North Dakota team is practicing in Rolla this week. The first practice was on Sunday.

"We have eight running plays, but haven’t gone over any passing yet,"

Surrey’s Cory Hammer said on Sunday. "And we just have a basic defense."

The game is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Neameyer Field. Cost is $10.

Maddock players Mark Wack Jr., left, and Jordan Backstrom participated in the SasKota Bowl in Rolla on July 7. Their love of football didn’t deter them from playing in 90 degree weather.

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