Van Hook is a ghost town in Van Hook Township, Mountrail County, North Dakota. The original town site was flooded when Lake Sakakawea was formed in the 1950s. We rented the Wilber house at the west edge of town from the fall of 1946 to the end of school in 1949. Summers were very hot, dusty and windy. Winters were very cold, snowy and windy.
We had a cave but not like the one in the Tom Sawyer story. Ours was an abandoned lignite mine under the ‘cliff’ where snow cornices formed in the winter. It only went in about thirty or forty feet so we could always see the entrance from inside. The cliff was about 20 feet high but seemed much higher to us. In our minds, the mine begged to be explored; and, we did.
It was not permitted but sometimes we would walk the mile out of town to the rodeo grounds and throw cow chips. There was an alkali pond near the rodeo grounds that was also on the forbidden list. A few times we snuck in a swim (dog paddle).
The railroad tracks provided entertainment too. We used the weight of trains to flatten pennies on the rails. Someone told us that if a train hit a bump as small as a penny it could be derailed. We did not believe that but we could get two pieces of Double-Bubble for a penny so it wasn’t too often that we had one flattened. I wonder sometimes how many rare coins became wafer thin copper. Another railroad thing was to challenge ourselves to walk a rail farther than someone else. There had to be a witness of course to verify bragging rights.
North Dakota is famous for its bad, worse, and worst winters in recent memory stories. Nearly every adult who grew up there has at least one story about how bad it was. Winters in Van Hook are worthy of their own stories. For the most part, winter was more fun for kids because we did not understand the consequence of poor decisions in the hostile environment. The school being closed for storms was far more fun for us than for the adults.
The surface of the snow was often so wind-whipped that its crust was thick with very few soft spots and perfect for sledding. We could even jump off our outhouse roof and not break through to the crystal like snow under the crust. The snow frequently drifted high enough so all we had to do is stand on the steering bar of a sled to get on top. One time the snow drifted high enough to block the back door of our house and we had to use the front door. Another time we had to climb out a window and shovel the snow away from both doors.
After school was out in 1949, Uncle Elmo Larson drove up from Minnesota with his grain truck to haul whatever household things we had. Mother was legally blind but she drove our 1939 Mercury to Minnesota.
I hope you enjoy the next set of stories about my summers in Van Hook.