Amenia, ND, 1880s.

If you head north on Highway 18 from Casselton, on your way to Arthur and Hunter, you’ll pass by the little town of Amenia.  You might not even notice it: the highway takes a bend to the east, and a thick shelterbelt blocks the view of town, other than the grain elevator peeking over the trees like a giant on patrol.

Eben Chafee was an old man when his family contributed a large chunk of money to what would become the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.   The investment group had bought railroad shares, which hadn’t done well in the 1870s, and they cashed in their stock to reinvest in something else West-related.   Rather than trains, the group bought land in Cass County, North Dakota, and send ‘ol Eben west to run the place.

Most of the other “bonanza” farms were merely owners, not farmers; the investors managed inventory and land and workers, but land was leased out, or crops were grown on a cost-sharing method, so there wasn’t a whole lot of tools lifted by the full owners of a bonanza farm.    Chaffee saw things differently:  sure, it was a lot of work to grow crops, and labor was expensive, but Chafee knew that the fertile land of North Dakota could be very profitable if the Amenia and Sharon Land Company controlled everything, from seed to trains.

They attempted to build their own rail line, but not much came of it; the big railroad companies were happy to run rail lines themselves where needed.   Everything else, though, Chaffee build himself: a network of grain elevators, towns full of general stores and blacksmiths and gas stations and hotels, everything needed to support an army of farmers hired to work the land for the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.

The company existed until the 1920s, well past the age of the bonanza farm, but the towns Chaffee built are still there.   Amenia may not be much today, less than a hundred residents on the census, but in its day the town was a industrial hub, providing a valuable service to hundreds of farmers, all for the profit of the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.

The town might not be visible, but Amenia was where this photo was taken — which was immortalized on a two-cent stamp commissioned for the 1891 Trans-Mississippi Exposition.   The stamp shows Chaffee’s farmers working the land with a massive horse teams all lined up.   This stamp bent the rules a bit: only in the past years have US Postal Service rules allowed for a living person to appear on a postage stamp.     In the “Farming in the West” stamp, however, it was quite certain that there were at least a couple of the people in the photo still living when the stamp was released.   Although the town of Amenia might not have the value it once did, the “Farming in the West” stamp still holds value to stamp collectors.

Learn more about Chaffee and the founding of Amenia in the Dakota Datebook story I filed for today.


The Steamboat Montana

My Dakota Datebook today tells the tale of the Wreck of the Montana.   In June, 1879, a tornado hit the boat landing at Bismarck, wreaking havoc on the steamboats moored there.   Three were tied up; the Montana’s sister-ship Dakotah and the Col. Mcleod made it through with minor damage.  The Montana, pictured below, didn’t fare so well.

The Coulson Line had the largest, fastest, and finest fleet of steamboats on the Missouri River.   In early 1879, the newly-launched Montana was their flagship of a half dozen large riverboats.   She was 250 feet long, 48′-6” wide, and had a two-cylinder steam engine.  Each cylinder was 18″ across and had a seven foot stroke — a massive engine to push around the largest stern paddle wheel  ever made, eighteen feet in diameter and 36 feet long.  The size of the Montana provided plenty of room for both passenger cabins and cargo holds, and even with 500 tons of weight on board only drew 3 feet of water.

In June of 1879, Captain Buesen had climbed to the top of the Montana to make sure the smokestacks were secure — unfortunately, they were about the only thing that survived when the tornado hit, along with the hull.   The cabins were torn apart, the pilot house is tipped forward over the bow, mass destruction ensued.   Only four members of the crew were on board when bad weather hit, and all survived with minor injuries.  The Montana, however, had to be sent in for repairs.

After a season in the shop, the Montana was put back into service on the lower Missouri and possibly also on the Mississippi and Ohio for a time.

On June 22, 1884, however, the Montana made its last voyage.  Loaded with freight, the steamboat hit either a submerged log or a bridge piling and sank near Bridgeton, Missouri.  The captain at the time, Bill Massie, managed to limp the Montana onto a sandbar near shore where the boat finally sank to the bottom in only a few feet of water.  The shallow wreck allowed for much of the cargo to be salvaged.

The Montana, however, rises from its grave from time to time.   The wreck was never entirely salvaged; when the water level of the Missouri drops due to drought, like last fall, you can see the remains of the Montana’s hull in the muddy banks of the river.  This has been a boon to researchers, who have little left to go on for these huge steamboats of the Missouri.

You can learn more about the Montana in the book The Steamboat Montana and the Opening of the West, which I sadly have not read yet but is now on my list.



I found this compelling article in the 18 June 1931 issue of The Beach (N.D.) Advance:

It reads:


All India is gossiping over Mahatma Gandhi’s unprecedented action in laying aside his spinning wheel and his h. e-uloo SHRDLU EATOISHSHSHRD.–Boston Transcript.

The article probably wasn’t run out of any newsman dedication to at least communicating part of the Gandhi spinning-wheel story.   More than likely, it was a case of professional schadenfreude.  Who would be so careless as to send out such a thing over the wires?  Those Boston newspapermen are running a shoddy ship, it seems.

You might want to blame static or some other signal interruption as the cause of such confusion, but there’s a clue here to prove the gibberish has an entirely human source.   You know the modern interface as the QWERTY keyboard — the reason we have to add QWERTY at the beginning is because then (and to a lesser extent now) people have devised other typing layouts for the sweet-spot of functionality, speed, and usability, so we name some keyboards by a pronounceable sequence of keys in order.

The top two lines of the Linotype keyboard are as follows:  ETAOIN and SHRDLU .  It would appear that the underpaid and underappreciated Bonston Linotypist messed up his text by hitting a few wrong keys — the “h. e-uio,o” part — and then signalled his failure by running his fingers down the keyboard to indicate the failed type.  Having done the keys out of order, or through some other carelessness, the text went out on the wires nonetheless.   What else is there to do when you’ve got a couple inches to fill and you’re just trying your best to run a ship-shape newspaper in far western North Dakota?  Run a bit of somebody else’s failure, and then get on with your day — another paper is due in only a few hours.


Horsepower, 1884

As I was doing my usual reading of old newspapers I ran across this advertisement. Ads for agricultural implements aren’t unusual, but this one in a May 1884 issue of the Bismarck Tribune caught my eye because of the odd device at the top. Mounted to a wagon are a large array of gears and pulleys, with no immediate explanation of what it does. It doesn’t have the parts to be a harvester, or a binder, or a thresher, and way too many gears to be a plow or a rake. What could this mysterious machine have done for a Dakota Territory farmer of the 1880s?

The main clue is the big wheel in the middle. Spaced evenly around its bullwheel are 10 square loops, alternating a large one and a small one. I’ve seen these before, on a horse-powered hay-baler. You run long bars through the rings that attach to the horse’s harness, so as the horse walks around the machine, the wheel turns and mechanical energy is generated.

The machine in the advertisement is, literally, a five horsepower engine. It gets difficult to search for similar machines, because “horse-power” pulls up pictures of late-model Fords and Toro lawnmowers. This excellent document has eye-witness description of one of these at work, along with some good pictures and description of what it does. The underside of the machine shows a combination pulley and drive-shaft, which is the output of the power. Another name for these is a horsepower ‘sweep’, due to the carousel-like sweeping motion the horses make as they produce their power.

At the time, a five-horsepower steam traction engine was an unhappy combination of expensive, difficult to use, and dangerous when things go wrong. The ongoing industrial revolution was producing innumerable labor-saving devices for the farmer, and this was the way to get the power without replacing your horses or investing in a big expensive machine that’d probably kill you, or at least take a bunch of your fingers. Not that the open gearing of the horse-power above was all that much more safe, but it’s easier to stop well-trained horses than to disengage a steam engine. Technology moves quickly, though: the size and reliability of steam and gasoline engines caught up with and exceeded horse-power sweeps by the beginning of the 20th century, so the window for these links between the unmechanized history of farming and today’s technological marvels of machinery wasn’t very long.


The Rusk Auto-House, 1915

One of the things my Wifey likes about me is that I geek out over weird things.  A few summers ago, while we were cruising rummage sales around Fargo, I started to geek out over a small building in an alley in the older section of town.  Yes, I’m a garage nerd, but for one particular one: The Rusk Auto-House was a solution to the fact that houses built before automobiles were common weren’t built with garages, or even planning on a garage on the property.   Fargo Cornice had the machinery and the know-how to build almost anything out of pressed steel.  In the early 1900s they saw this new market made up of  new car owners, and the Rusk Auto-House filled their need for automobile storage.   Amazingly, many still survive, still in the back yards of hundred-year-old houses.  One was once on the Register of Historic Places, and I’ve got photos of a couple more I’ve run across since I first posted the Auto-House page here; and, I didn’t even know there was a restored one over in North Fargo!  The advertisement above was a 1/2 page ad that appeared in the Fargo Forum in 1915, while an auto show was going on in town.  $139 in 1914 dollars is about $3,200 in 2013 dollars — and that’s about what it’ll cost you to get a steel garage today.


The Cunningham Sanitarium, 1920s

What is it — an oil tank? A spacecraft? A nuclear reactor? In 1928, this was the cutting-edge in medical technology: The Cunningham Sanitarium.

Dr. Orval J Cunningham was experimenting with the use of oxygen to treat a variety of diseases, particularly diabetes and asthma, at the University of Kansas in Kansas City, Missouri. Part of the process was to inhale oxygen through a glass tube for hours daily, and although Cunningham believed the treatment was successful, it was, well, boring to sit in one place for so long, just inhaling concentrated oxygen. He improved the technique by enclosing the patients in cylindrical tanks full of compressed oxygen, but those small enclosed spaces were still too inhibiting of daily life.

One of his patients, believed to be cured of diabetes by the oxygen treatments, was a friend of the King of Ball Bearings, Mr. Henry H Timken Jr. Timken, son of inventor Henry Timken Sr., the owner of Timken Roller Bearings Company, had both the money and the steel production capabilities to make Cunningham’s plans come to life. The building in the photo above was christened The Cunningham Sanitarium in 1928, and its spherical design was to allow the entire building to be pressurized above the normal air pressure, with a higher concentration of oxygen than normal air.

The building consisted of 38 bedrooms on three floors, with a recreation room on the top floor. An elevator ran through the center of the sphere. The walls were constructed of half-inch steel plates, and 350 portholes ringed the 64-foot-diameter ball. Patients would live in this concentrated, pressurized oxygen tent until cured, or so the theory goes.

The problem is, this wasn’t much of a cure. Cunningham’s theories were well-intentioned, but poorly tested. Few other doctors believed the treatment was viable, and now, ninety years later, the fact that modern hospitals aren’t giant metal balls lends to Cunningham’s unsuccessful methods. The ongoing Great Depression was no help to Cunningham’s giant ball, either: within five years, the Sanitarium was about to close its doors.

Another magnate of modern industry came to Cunningham’s aid. In 1934, James H. Rand III, son of James Rand Jr, proprietor of the Remington-Rand Company, showed interest in Cunningham’s work. While his father was revolutionizing the business electronics world, James The Third had left the family business to develop new inventions for the medical industry. At only 21 years old, Rand purchased the sphere and established The Ohio Institute of Oxygen Therapy.

Although Cunningham’s sphere may have given Rand a leg-up for his later inventions, which included an oxygen regulator and a variety of hospital fixtures, the Institute did not fare much better under Rand. 1937 was a particularly bad year for the spherical sanitarium. Dr. Cunningham passed away in February. In September the Institute for Oxygen Therapy was charged with violating Ohio securities laws, and a number of documents mysteriously disappeared from the state securities division offices. Shortly after, the sphere fell into disuse and was abandoned.

Around 1940 the building and land was purchased by the Cleveland Catholic Diocese to use as a youth center and summer camp. In November 1941, the Diocese was already considering ridding itself of the curiosity, but by 1942 the wartime scrap metal drives condemned the building to destruction. In March, 1942, the Cunningham Sanitarium was finally torn down on the orders of the U.S. War Production Board and the half-inch steel plate walls of the Cunningham Sanitarium, originally intended to cure disease, went into the production of tanks and warplanes.

Today, Cunningham’s theories haven’t been completely abandoned. High-pressure oxygen treatment still provides benefit in certain cases, even though it’s not anywhere near a cure for asthma or diabetes. The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland still owns the land that the Cunningham Sanitarium stood upon: it is now the location of Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School.


Meet Katy High, 1963

Do you know Katy High?  Here she is, in 1963, with a big sash around her shoulders so she doesn’t forget her name.   Sorry for the large image; that’s the nature of Miss Katy High:

Katy High is not actually her real name.   This woman is 19-year-old Carol R Dettmann, Miss Tall USA 1963, from Milwaukee Wisconsin, topping out at a head-bumping 6 feet 1 inch tall.   Carol was brought on to promote a world-record-setting construction project in North Dakota, and her name is a pun.  Here’s a clue as to what Miss Dettmann was promoting:

Get it?  Katy High was promoting KTHI, a new set of TV call letters that were issued in 1963.   The station had gone by KXGO and KEND, but when they came upon their plan to build the tallest freestanding manmade structure in the world, it only seemed appropriate to call themselves “HI”gh.  In most promotional materials, the call letters were written as ktHI, further emphasizing the accomplishment of broadcast engineering. The previous record was held by WRBL and WTVM, at 1,749 feet tall in Columbus, GA, but when the FCC issued the permit to KEND-TV in May 8, 1963, they set a new record, the new tower measuring up at 2,063 feet.  If you’ll remember your high school measurements, a mile is 5,280 feet — so the KTHI tower is four tenths of a mile tall.  It might not seem like much, but it’s twice as tall as the Eiffel Tower, almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building, and was only recently surpassed in height by the Burj in Dubai.  The KTHI tower held the record until the 1970s, when a tower was built in Poland that stuck up a little higher into the sky, but that mast collapsed in the nineties, returning the title to North Dakota.  According to the marketing material sent out regarding the tower’s construction, the KTHI-TV tower is 339 Katy Highs tall (provided she’s in stocking feet).

The KTHI tower is still in service, standing tall on the prairie, broadcasting to the entirety of the Red River Valley — which, in 1995, brought about another call letter change.  To reflect their service to the Valley, rather than a record-setting mast, the station changed their letters to KVLY.

Miss Carol Dettmann experienced a name change of her own: she married not long after her she visited Fargo to be the mascot of the tallest antenna in the world.


Mails By Electricity, 1890

Oscar was so close with his 1890 invention of “electric mail” process, but yet so far:

To Send Mails by Electricity.

Oscar Kleinsteinber, superintendent of the police alarm and telephone system of Milwaukee, is working on a new invention which may ultimately revolutionize the present system of carrying mails between different cities.  It is intended to be an electrical mail carrier, and works on the same principle as the overhead electric streetcar system, only that the wires intended to carry the mails will be inclosed in pipes.  It is expected that the mail carriage will travel sixty miles an hour.–Cor. Chicago Tribune.

Ah, if only we could use electricity to hurtle mail from one person to another, in entirely different cities, at the mind-boggling speed of sixty miles an hour!    Oscar is, of course, referring specifically to physical copies of mail, which is still around today and hurtles down the freeways at well over 60 miles an hour.  He’s also about fifty years too late if he had the inkling of a truly electricity-based method of mailing documents: the fax machine came about in the 1840s.   Despite his unique name I couldn’t find any patents issued to Oscar, so while his invention made the news wires (which had already mastered electrical communication decades earlier), his electrically-powered mail transfer service never made it off the drawing board.


Black’s Store Costume Party, 1932

Happy Halloween from Black’s Department Store!  This wasn’t the store located in the Black Building: the photo was taken in 1932, so this ragtag bunch of costumed employees worked for the Store Without A Name, Black’s followup to his original department store.   Sure, the photo was taken in November, but you can’t always plan your costume balls around a holiday like Halloween.   As seen in last Sunday’s Dakota Death Trip, but you can click the photo for a much larger view: see if you can find the one person marked with an arrow!


The Petroleum Tree, 1957

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Here we have the Tree of Petroleum, the family structure of what comes from crude oil and ends up in your car, on your body, and in your food.   It’s rather creepy to have a whole branch devoted to wax that goes into all the various parts of your body, but it doesn’t sound so bad when the ingredient label calls it paraffin.  The tree includes a bunch of things that have most likely been replaced with less oil-dependent contents or eliminated by modern technology, such as fly spray, tree spray oil,  and lighthouse oil.    The most of it, however, should require reflection on everyone who demands that driving less will reduce dependency on oil.  There’s a lot more to petroleum products, of which gasoline is but one component in a process that produces a wide variety of products we use today.  The diagram is from the Book of Knowledge.

Wondering what happened to the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company?  They’re known by a much snappier name today.