Plains Folk

Stormy Night in Strasburg


There was a lot going on in Strasburg, North Dakota, last Saturday night. How many times have you ever heard someone say that? But it’s true.

I was in town leading the service learning expedition of North Dakota State University students helping to prove up the Welk Homestead, preparing it for the transition to status as a state historic site, to be administered by the State Historical Society of North Dakota come the summer of 2015.

The Ludwig and Christina Welk Homestead was the birthplace of the musician, Lawrence Welk. More to the point as to historic significance, it is a place for interpretation of the homesteading experience, pioneer farm life, and the Germans from Russia.

Acquisition of the homestead site by the state historical society is contingent on certain repairs being made to the property, including extensive repairs to the barn. Now, I’ll admit, at the outset, I thought the stated problems with the barn were overblown. Once we got into the work, however, we found the concerns were justified, and we worked resolutely to correct the problems.

There was a baker’s dozen of us working on the barn, under direction by a home boy from Linton, Clarence Herz—a PhD student of mine, also an ex-Marine, also an experienced construction contractor. Our work was guided by a set of recommendations provided by the good people at KLJ engineering.

Saturday was a great day. We set to work strengthening the internal columns of support and doubling the horizontal beams, while also pulling up the decking of the loft. This was where things looked a little shaky. The loft decking is important to holding the barn together, and we found that some of the beams under it were pulled loose from the studs in the wall, floating free. Right away we tied them back in.

We also resolved to tear up only a section of the loft decking at a time, and then to put back more solid and stable decking before moving on to another section. Before leaving for supper at Webo’s of Linton, we buttoned everything up tight again, and left knowing the barn was much stronger and more stable that it had been when we arrived.

We were one party of diners in the back room at Webo’s, a fine country town café. The other party comprised high school kids from Strasburg dining preparatory to their prom.

Once back in Strasburg the NDSU gang settled in to sleep on the floor of the school. I strolled over to the Blue Room and chatted with the bartender, a chap from Mississippi. Who are all these people in the bar, I asked? He said, it’s prom night, and these are the prom parents.

Then I went back to the school and settled into the soft driver’s seat of my F150 to sleep, only to be awakened at three in the morning by a violent thunderstorm and high winds rocking the truck. That ended my night’s sleep. All I could think about was, although I knew the barn was now stronger than before, What if it should blow down tonight? A great headline that would make.

Which it didn’t, of course. We went back next morning and strengthened the barn some more, and we’ll keep on until the thing is solid enough to satisfy anyone.

My assistant at the Center for Heritage Renewal said to me, It seems like we’re having to prove up the homestead all over again. He’s right, and it’s a lot of work, but just like the first time, it’s a lot of satisfaction, too. It’s a privilege to have a part in the revitalization of a great historic

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