When you drive into Gackle, North Dakota, there’s a hillside filled with tires painted in red, white, and blue. They spell out the town name. When I asked if mischievous high schoolers ever messed with those tires, I was told, “Oh, fer sure.” They’ve been rearranged to spell “TACKLE” “TICKLE” and more.
I came to this town of 300 to hunt some birds and address the gathered UCC ministers over the weekend. There’s a movie theater in Gackle, but it closed a few years ago. The mayor had been trained on the projector, but he’d run out of volunteers to help him.
The story goes that in 1904, the railroad was being built a couple miles north of town. When a surveyor asked a guy standing around watching him, “What’s the name of this place?”, the farmer replied, “It doesn’t have a name.”
“Well, what’s your name?”
That’s what the surveyor wrote down, and that became the town name.
Once the railroad came through, the entire town moved north, so that it would be on the tracks.
Nowadays, there’s not a hotel or a bank for 40 miles.
A couple years ago, homes in town were going for $8000-$10,000. Duck hunters bought up houses, and now they’re called “hunting houses.” These guys come to town a couple times per year, stay in the house, and hunt. Otherwise, they sit vacant.
When a newcomer came to town, he couldn’t understand why the big thermometers outside of houses faced the street rather than the house. It’s so that the caretakers of these hunter houses can drive by and see if it’s below freezing. If it is, they have to go in the house and check the pipes.
The UCC pastor here is also the ELCA pastor. The Baptists were going to join in the consortium, but they backed out because of theological issues. The Baptists haven’t had a pastor for years.
Just south of town, there’s an Apostolic Finnish Lutheran Church. I was told they have their services piped in from Sioux Falls, SD. I said, “On video?” I was met with laughter. “No,” came the reply, “Just the audio. They sit on benches and listen to the service. They don’t have TVs, neither.”
There’s a Hutterite colony nearby. “They sell us chickens.”
I’ll have more thoughts from Gackle. I’m off to hunt today with my host, Harry, a 74-year-old farmer. Yesterday, we jumped potholes and I bagged two gadwalls and a mallard.