During my stay in Mott, North Dakota it happened that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins were on their way to the moon. For this event there were about a dozen of Mott’s finest (plus me) in the lobby of the Mott Hotel watching a black and white TV set that hung from the ceiling. Nobody could see the picture very well, since the TV was small, reception was bad and the transmission from the moon was nothing like today’s high tech HDTV. It seemed that most of the conversation consisted of questions like “What’s that?” “Is that him now?”
At the time I did not realize what a monumental occasion it was, but looking back on it from the perspective of today, it is almost overwhelming that it could have happened. All of the computers used on the moon shot, added together, were not as powerful as the computer in my pocket today, and only a fraction of the computing power used to create this blog post. Very few people in the room that night (somewhere about midnight as I recall) understood how it could happen, let alone what it would really mean to the world.
You might ask, “Why were you in Mott anyway?” Money. I had been fired from my previous job. While getting a haircut the next day, I heard that some guy in Mott was looking for an experienced metal building erector. I needed a job, was fully qualified (willing to work in Mott) and the rest was history. A quick phone call to Mott ensured that I could show up on Monday morning and stay in the Mott Hotel.
Mott is far into the western part of North Dakota. To make the trip shorter on that holiday weekend (July 4) it only seemed right to drive at well over 90 MPH. This was before the energy crunch so the speed limit was 75 and traffic tended to go about that speed. The highway was crowded (for North Dakota in 1969) with hundreds of holiday travelers and one state patrol car.
What a letdown, to be stopped for speeding on the way to a new job in a far away town. The worst was yet to come. The hotel in Mott was a real junker. The rooms did not have a bathroom, only a sink. The toilet and bath tub were in a common room across the hall. It was an old wooden structure with the porch all the way around the outside. Fortunately, they only charged a couple dollars a day. There was a restaurant in the hotel and another just down the street. Each day I’d eat my evening meal at one or the other. They got to know me, since there were hardly any visitors in that town. (Does anyone have a picture of that hotel?)
I’d occasionally go to the local tavern with the guys for a beer, but drinking wasn’t my forte. Mostly I’d stay in my room and read a book, magazine or newspaper. I could only stand one weekend in Mott. The highlight was to go back to Jamestown for the weekend. That was a long trip of about 200 miles. Hitchhiking was fun to try in that wilderness. Getting from Mott to Bismarck was not too bad, as those people are very friendly and willing to pick up someone. But the trick was to get from Bismarck to Jamestown. The first time I just sat on the edge of the interstate highway until about eleven at night being eaten by mosquitoes and talking to a professional hitchhiker. He was sort of what you’d have called a bum in the old days. That night I never did get picked up, so I walked downtown to the bus depot, found a red-eye special to Jamestown and rode home in glory.
We got paid every Saturday morning, and cashing that check for a hundred and eighty dollars was pretty exciting for this poor boy. Coming home with my first hundred dollar bill was pretty exciting. I loved to flash it around, but ran into trouble when I tried to pay for a fill of gas at the local Farmer’s Union station. They didn’t have enough change to handle it! Given that a tank of gas was only about four dollars, you can understand their consternation.
I did work on Saturday AM, but as everybody else had family to go to we knocked off at noon. At that time it was not clear to me that a weekend’s entertainment was up to me, so I didn’t arrange anything, which meant sitting alone in the hotel all weekend. Being too shy to even go to church made it a pretty boring weekend. There isn’t much to do in Mott. Years later I’d learn how to find entertainment.
Putting up steel buildings is non-trivial work. We had to assemble a large arc of pressed sheet metal on the ground before raising it into position. These buildings were about fifty feet across and thirty feet high. We had to clamber all over them to tighten the screws with an electric drill and then caulk the seams. The equipment was not well maintained. After a rain, on the wet concrete, I discovered that the extension cord I was using had worn through the insulation in several places. That drill really flew when I turned it on! 120 volts flowing from the drill, to my hands, and through wet boots to the concrete was invigorating! That’s probably why you won’t find a frayed electrical cord in my house.
Those rain storms were boring and fun. Rain meant that we couldn’t work, but we welcomed thunder storms that would come up towards the end of a terribly hot day. In western North Dakota we could see the storm for hours before it hit. They were a gigantic wall of green clouds against a blue sky background. The sun generally was behind them, creating quite an eerie light, with a greenish orange tint. Often times we’d see a small airplane “seeding” the clouds in a vain attempt to deflate the fury of the storm. Those pilots must have had incredible nerve to fly that close to a towering thunder cloud in a little airplane, and you’ve read about my love of flying. (Or maybe that’s a story coming soon?)
It was good money for those days, and it only lasted about six weeks. There was a lesson learned that I will never forget: Go to school, get an education and get a good job in an air conditioned office. Done.