Murdo, Day 2

Today the sun rose on a far more normal-looking Murdo. With the sun streaming in the windows, it was possible to make out that the headless dude in the picture is really a guy in a cowboy hat, with his head bent low. He seems to be holding a small calf under his arm, not a skull. It is still very dark and hard to make out, though. I think it is a photo of a painting, and the photo has kept getting darker over time.

Anyway, I headed “downtown” to check out the Pioneer Auto Show, which is run by the second- and third-generation Geisler family. Over 55 years has gone into this collection, which is a pretty eclectic mix of mostly-American cars from the dawn of the automobile to the late 70’s, with a couple of newer vehicles for good measure.

From 1945 to the 1980’s, this family operated a variety of car dealerships. It appears that a lot of the museum’s cars were taken as trade-ins which were set aside for the museum instead of being re-sold. Most of the registration stickers are from the 70’s and 80’s.

There are a number of foreign cars on display, including a BMW Isetta and a Messerschmitt KR200. No Peel P50, though, but they do have a Trabant.

Most of the cars are in semi-enclosed buildings or under free-standing roofs. Very few cars are “under glass” and in perfect restored condition. On such car is Tom Mix’s 1931 Packard. Most of the cars are behind a low railing or parked in the aisles with the windows down. I don’t think many have run for quite a number of years – lots of them appear to have battery chargers under their hoods, as I saw quite a few 2-prong plugs on short cables sticking out. These are the old-style plugs, with frayed cloth or rubber wires.

There’s also large sections for tractors and other farm equipment, and one building with motorcycles, including an Elvis Presley Harley-Davidson 1200 (also under glass). Outside one of the tractor buildings was a Ford F-5 pickup truck converted to steam. Sticking out of the hood were two large steam pistons at a 30-degree angle, complete with oilers and so on. They drove a shaft which was then connected to the driveshaft via chains.

Steam was apparently provided by a vertical boiler in the pickup truck bed. Water was held in 2 55-gallon drums. Presumably, the third drum was for some flammable liquid to fuel the boiler. This must have been an absolute deathtrap when operating – according to the gauges in the back, it ran using a working steam pressure of 250-300 PSI.

There is also a large mineral exhibit hall, many classic amusement / vending machines (apparently the state is a stickler for licensing – most of these, whether operable or not, had state license stickers with an expiration date of 2012 – very odd to see one on a cigarette vending machine that hasn’t sold a pack in 35 years or more).

There’s also a reconstruction of a prairie town, which has a number of historic buildings dating from the early 1900’s which were moved to the site at a later date (the one-room schoolhouse from 1906 was acquired when it finally stopped being used in 1956!)

After touring the museum for hours, I chatted with the current proprietor, Dave Geisler. I asked about the steam pickup, and he said that someone had done the conversion as a lark, and that his father had then purchased it. We also talked about my Atom, and he pointed out a local resident who was just pulling out of the museum’s other parking lot. This local was driving a car which was apparently made out of wood in the back half, and some sort of bare metal (aluminum, maybe) sheeting on the front. The passenger side of this car had a pennyfarthing bicycle attached to it, and the driver was wearing a WWI leather aviator’s cap and goggles. As the car pulled away, Dave turned to me and said “We have a REAL shortage of ‘normal’ around here.” I think that sums it up perfectly…

After dinner, on the way back to my room, I stopped to pick up the complimentary local paper at the front desk. It is the “Rapid City Journal”, and the headline news of the day was that an obscure religious group purchased the entire town of Scenic, SD for $700,000 and nobody knows what they’re going to do with it – speculation runs rampant and the county sheriff has no idea what’s going on. You can read the article here, at least until the link dies.

In other top news, South Dakota meat production rose 17 per cent in August. Pork was up, while sheep and lamb production was down. Turkey production is expected to fall 7% this month.

In the newswire section, strange things happen when local reporters try to summarize or paraphrase articles they receive. Quoted verbatim from the paper: “SALT LAKE CITY – A North Carolina man crawled four days across the Utah Desert after breaking his leg, inspired by a Hollywood movie about a man who cut off his own arm to save himself after being trapped by a boulder in the same canyon.” Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t this sound like the guy broke his own leg on purpose?

Anyway, that’s the word from America’s heartland tonight. Signing off until tomorrow…

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