Crosby old truck collection

Sometimes, spontaneity is the best incentive for creativity. It’s freeing and limitless (well, almost).

Take a recent Saturday afternoon trip to Minot to get to the credit union before it closed. It was a gorgeous afternoon — well kinda. It was chilly, upper 60’s but sunny. That’s good enough for a cruise and snooze.

Red and I headed northwest from Minot, up the scenic drive of Highway 52, up the Des Lacs river. It’s a wide river valley floor with soft hills on either side. Apparently the the railroad company of a century ago decided to follow the long easy valley. So, our ride on Highway 52 was parallel to both the river and the railroad.

It’s because of the railroad that the valley is dotted with small towns. Some are only a shadow of what they once were. Others have a few signs of life. Red reminded me that some of the small town cops along Highway 52 are tough on speeding tourists. So, we slowed down for each an every town. A good recommendation, wouldn’t you say?

We stopped for coffee and fuel at Kenmare. You don’t find many surprises at those cookie cutter Cenex Convenience stores. The front has coffee and a couple of booths to sit in. Behind the counter are the smokes and the chew. Way to the back is generally the hardware or farmer items. In between the smokes and the hardware is the food — convenient, and priced accordingly. High.

It’s getting late in the day. Sunlight in the northern edge of the lower 48 states lasts a long time in June. We jumped up to Highway 5, still cruising west, barely 15 miles from the Canadian border. And though the sunlight was long, it was not warm. So, we stopped a couple times along the road to add more warm layers.

I recommend that any time you head out on a cruise and snooze, you bring a full compliment of hot and cold clothes. That means lightweight layers such as t-shirts, all the way up to short sleeve button up shirt, long sleeve t-shirt, long sleeve button up shirt, vest, hooded sweatshirt, leather coat and rain gear.

We stopped near Columbus, along the side of the road to add more layers. It was really getting colder and colder. We didn’t need the rain gear, but we added all the other layers. The fellows I used to ride with from Lake Charles, Louisiana and Beaumont, Texas back in 2004 showed me an essential trick for keeping body warmth where it’s supposed to be. The included a crotch rag that they tucked in their belt, draped over their crotch and tucked under their thighs to keep warm.

With our layers, our crotch rags and even face masks, Red and I pulled in to Crosby, North Dakota. (Did you know that Crosby has the longest daylight hours on June 21 of any city in the lower 48? Sunrise is 5:30 and sunset is after 10:00. The long slow dusk blends seamlessly to the early glow of dawn. As one disappears in the west, the other is starting in the east.)

Crosby isn’t very big, but it is prosperous. Oil. The Bakken oil play fuels not only petroleum needs in the U.S., but also the local economy. Crosby is doing well. Well enough to afford a good motel, we figured.

We were wrong. The motel left a lot to be desired. But it was cheap. $50 for the night for the two of us. I suppose you don’t need a fancy motel if all the clients are oil field workers who just need a warm bed and hot shower. It suited us, but I’d recommend you move on if you’re looking for a “nice” place to stay.

The payoff was what we found riding around town, looking for the motel. It’s a mortuary or mausoleum of old dead steamers, tractors and trucks. Dozens and dozens of oxidized implements, the heavy equipment of another life 80 or 100 years ago.

The next morning, when warmer weather (55 degrees or so) began to encourage us to hit the road, we paused long enough at the collection of ancient equipment.

Someone had the decency to give these retired iron work horses a presentable lineup. On display, lined up, and framed by green grass and yellow dandelions, the old trucks reminded me of a cluster of old ranchers huddled up, reminiscing about the “good old days.” I hauled out my camera and tripod and tried several different exposures. A fill light would have washed out the dark secrets of the oxidized equipment, so I let the darkness blend with the desaturated paint jobs of the old machines.

Free to travel, free to head out in any direction we wanted, we stumbled on these posed models, an opportunity we’d never had if we were bound by limits. But because we spontaneously took the long way home from Minot, we were given the chance to mingle among and photograph some of North Dakota’s history.
(Recommendation: If you have a romantic sense of history, you’ll find it tickled in the sparsely settled sections of western North Dakota. People are friendly, helpful and non-threatening. They’ll talk about most anything. Spring and fall are great times for photographers to tour western North Dakota. Spring displays more shades of green than you knew existed. Fall is a busy time of year, the golden harvest and brilliant sunsets are worth the drive to western North Dakota. Hotels are inexpensive — less than $50/ a night for a ma and pa motel.)

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