Norman Hensen shares his northern Minnesota memories
Norman Jensen has seen a lot in the last 48 years and noticed a lot of changes and he has built a business out of literally nothing.
Born in Grattan, ND, Jensen said his family moved down by Red Wing for a few years before moving just south of Bemidji.
"We went down south for four years then come up here broke," he said. ."That was Oct. 16 1962. I bought 200 gallons of gas, a case of oil and and three boxes of candy bars and we went to Bemidji and we had $27 left when we got here."
Jensen made the move with no job lined up but he had an idea. There was this old gas station up north -- not much more than an old gas pump.
Jensen said he bought the place from Joe Jerome.
"Just the gas pump was here with an empty tank. He had a contract with Standard Oil and Jerome sold 250 gallons the last year they were here," Jensen said.
"We had a few loaves of bread, chips, pop, candy bars," he said. "The chicken coop was the store and the porch was a wood shed. Nobody would borrow me even $5. The banks wouldn't loan me any money. We ended up in the Blackduck Bank because that's our address cause I thought it would be the best."
With things the way they were back then -- money tight -- Jensen started farming.
He said he remembers plowing the day before Christmas that fall.
"It froze up then thawed out the day before Christmas,: he explained. "Christmas Day, it was -24°! It turned cold quick!"
Jensen said he tried to borrow some money all over the country because there was going to be a sale and he needed things.
"I think I had $750 in the bank and wanted to buy some tools," he said. "Every time I would go in there, I would lower the amount I was asking for a little bit. The night before the sale, I went in to see Bud Olson and told him I wanted to borrow $5 for some tools. Of course $5 was quite a bit back then. They said they couldn't do it."
Jensen said the banker had asked him if he would stick around for a few months, then they could help so he said he would try to stick it out.
"Ollie Jamtaas had the bank back then. I went in to cash some fish checks and I started talking to him and he took the checks and said, 'What are these?' And I said, 'Fish checks.' then he asked me what I was going to do with them and I told him I was going to cash them."
And that was how it all began -- the store... the farm... and home.
"It's kind of like having your own little world here because nothing is really close to you," he said.
What are his rewards for living in such a remote area, some would call it?
"I've never had a break in. This road out here by the woods, well... that's the reservation line," he explained.
Jensen also remembered a snow storm that caused a lot of problems to everyone.
"Back in the 1970s, we had a big storm," he said. "Can't remember the exact day but I know it was on a Friday and there was a lot of snow and everyone had to take off for the basketball game. Everyone was getting stuck coming home.
"Finally the snowplow got stuck, he said. "It was drifted in really bad. About 10 p.m., they came with another snowplow and it got stuck on the other side of the road. Then they came with another plow and it got stuck. They got seven snowplows and loaders stuck down there."
Jensen said that there were quite a few people stuck up here because of a 10 ft. snow drift.
"I can't remember just how they got out of here but they all left after drinking tea. About 5 the next night, it was still storming but here they come with a big snowplow because someone was sick and they had to get them out and they were pushing on the snow banks that were harder than a rock.
"They would get in the snow banks and couldn't push them. They came here and asked could we take our Cat and push them banks out. The had to get a few cases of Heat because of snow in the fuel then someone blew a battery and asked if we had one. Then they needed some fuel. I don't know what else. They finally got through."
Jensen said the crew said they would pay up the next day and sure enough, they came and said they had bad news.
"They couldn't pay because they weren't authorized to buy any of that stuff from me. I asked what they could do about it. They said they would think of something. There was a councilmember from Redby and he said they would take care of it."
The next year, they tarred the road and tarred up to the mailbox to pay for it.
"The reservation paid for the tarring of the road," he said. 'It wasn't the county. They wouldn't pay for anything."
And that, he said with a laugh, is how he got his road tarred!
Besides his store, Jensen also does some welding --- more of a have to than a want to, he said.
"Something has to be done and somebody has to do it. My brother does it more. My sister-in-law is also a blacksmith. Not enough demand for that stuff thought," he said.
And then there is the farm with his cows.
"It was so cold last July that I was milking my cow with my jacket on," he said. "I should be milking her now but she is supposed to be having a calf."
Jensen has been laid up for the past six weeks with a couple of broken ribs.
"The cows decided they weren't gonna go through to the corral and put their heads down on the gate and somehow got it off the hinges and pushed it on me and that's the last thing I remember," he explained. "Broke my glasses and the X-rays showed I had two broken and three cracked ribs. Not much you can do for broken ribs though."
He said he was doing fine now, just stiff and sore but that isn't stopping him from getting out.
Jensen's photo unveiling, due to take place July 16 at will be the last final photo for the Places and Faces project. Project coordinator Rose Heim expressed appreciation to everyone for their support of the project.