Plains Folk

Luverne Trestle


As we settle in for what looks like an El Nino summer, you have to get into the outdoors when the sun shines. Last week I was a fellow traveler with the wonderful poet, Madelyne Camrud of Grand Forks, as she gave readings from her book, Oddly Beautiful. Her publisher, New Rivers Press of Minnesota State University Moorhead, with the help of funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council, had lined her up for readings at two historic B&Bs: Volden Farm, near Luverne, and Beaver Creek B&B, near Hannaford.


Madelyn is one of those poets who adds value to her work with presentation. Her poetry, which is wonderfully engaging on the printed page, becomes even more vital as she speaks it. I think this is because she comes across as a genuine person who writes from lived experience.


The lived experience in Oddly Beautiful is adjusting to the dementia that afflicted her late husband, an adjustment that eventually worked itself out in a literary way, for the benefit of all of us. This sounds like a grim topic, and it is at times, but there are moments of redemption, too.


It was raining like the dickens when we gathered in the barn loft at Volden Farm, but over the next two days there were blue skies and bracing winds. So in-between enjoying the excellent hospitality of JoAnne Wold at Volden Farm and Shelley Wold at Beaver Creek, I took to the back roads and the prairie trails to see what I could find.


I had baitcasting and spinning rigs with me, and tossed spoons and spinners into every likely bit of water I passed, with no luck at all. I had better luck scouting for features of historic interest, helped along by a piece recently published by my friend Dennis Stillings of Valley City, wherein Dennis recounted his expedition to the Luverne Railroad Trestle.


The Luverne Trestle, by which the Burlington Northern Santa Fe crosses the upper end of Lake Ashtabula, is a remarkable and historic piece of engineering. It is similar to the Hi-Line Bridge at Valley City, being somewhat shorter but actually about 25 feet higher above the water.


The west end of the bridge is easily accessible; the North Country Trail brings hikers right under it. The view from the west ridge is spectacular, as well as simply beautiful: the dark girders so stark against the blue skies and white clouds.


The wind was racing in from the northwest as I watched three trains pass over the trestle, and I thought, it would make me a little nervous to be crossing in this gale. Sure enough, subsequent research disclosed that on the evening of August 9, 2006, a train of double-stack container cars attempted to cross the Luverne Trestle during a thunderstorm, and about a half-mile of cars blew off. No one was injured, but damages totaled $9 million.


No such misfortunes on this day, however, as I sat down on the rocky ridge, picked ticks off the beagle, and savored the view. All around us, wolf willow shrubs were coming into bloom, and in a wind-protected coulee, the sweet musk of the blossoms lingered.


Perhaps, like Madelyne Camrud, you’ve come through some difficult times. Or perhaps, like me, you’ve just had a hard year of work, mostly self-inflicted. In-between the storms, though, there are these places and moments of redemption.

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