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Across The Lake

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My Favorite Reader was writing some notes to friends and she was listening to music on a CD player our son had given her on some occasion or another. I came in and realized she'd changed the record and what I was hearing wasn't Mozart -- it was big band music fittingly picked for the Memorial Day weekend. It was swing, it was the sort of stuff we listened to when bands like Dorsey and Miller and Goodman sounded just like what we were hearing now.

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This was a not a collection of old recordings. This was a band and it was a nice choice for the holiday because most of the musicians were guys who were veterans themselves and some of them probably even from World War II. These were guys from North Dakota, drawn from the ranks of the North Dakota State American Legion Band and they'd put together a selection of melodies ranging from In the Mood to String of Pearls and American Patrol. They recorded it in 1999, probably for a fund-raising project for the Legion and it's now a real collector's item.

The North Dakota Legion band is unusual in that it truly was a state band, as the late Ken Fitch described it, "53 men from 53 counties," selected from every county in the state. Ken was a Fargo insurance man, for years a state legislator, a man who played no instrument himself, but one who loved band music. As the manager, he took North Dakota's band to national conventions year after year and because that state had played such a vital roll in getting the American Legion started and getting its headquarters located in Indianapolis, the band regularly was given a lead position in convention parades.

Today it no longer has a large headquarters building in downtown Fargo, but the dance band swings and I've been told the record's producer halted the session at one point and insisted that they "don't sound like a bunch of old guys." When you hear them, you'll know they listened to him on Pennsylvania 6-5000. The record is called 20 Guys from North Dakota. It's worth looking for. There may even be a new one out but you'll want the original.

For their smaller size and population, the Dakotas have produced some major figures in the communications business. Tom Brokaw, Eric Sevareid quickly come to mind. In newspaper circles, one of them is Allen Neuharth, who rose to head the Gannet chain and among that group's many newspapers, founded USA Today. His regular Friday column in that paper a week ago dwelt with typewriters. He still uses one to pound out those columns and of course roused my envy when I learned he once went to garage sales and second-hand stores, acquiring a dozen old Royal manual typewriters "for spare parts" if one wore out.

I used an old Royal like that at WDAY years ago -- in wartime new ones were hard to find, but my learning the "hunt and peck" technique was helpful later on. It even enabled me to pass typing tests as a Navy yeoman, but that's another story. Right now, I'm looking across the room at an electric one acquired a few months ago from a Bemidji lady who listed it in the co-op magazine, Northern Lights. It replaced one Walt Thienes got for his granddaughter, much like the one we had given our own granddaughter a few years ago.

As Neuharth wrote in his column, typewriters have gone the way of buggy whips. No one seems to need them anymore and the companies that manufactured them have gone into other lines of business. We have, too, with PCs or Mac computers giving way to laptops and iPods and Androids and probably something even newer by the time this gets from here to the printer. Ev en that has changed -- the 'printer' used to mean a man with ink on his hands. Now it's just something that gets plugged in -- unless it's a wireless model.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Had to miss a photo op at the school a week ago, so if we can't find someone who took pictures at the science fair, we'll at least see if we can get a list of the winners. Have a hunch that just doing a project made everyone of the kids a winner.

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