FARGO, North Dakota — Two Fargo men who for the past several years have been documenting ghost towns and abandoned places in North Dakota have found some obscure buildings that are still open for business in these desolate areas.
Terry Hinnenkamp and Troy Larson recently discovered an old railroad bunkhouse in Marmarth, near the Montana border, that has been converted to a European-style hostel. Rooms are $15 a night and payable on the honor system. Put the money in a bowl, grab a bunk.
"It's not like there's somebody working the front desk," Hinnenkamp said. "You put your cash in and you get to spend the night."
Among the abandoned lumber yard, armory and train depot in Venturia, a town of 21 people near the South Dakota border, is a bar called the Duck Inn. Its centerpiece is a 104-year-old pool table. Hinnenkamp bought a T-shirt that reads "Duck Inn and Waddle Out."
The two men who met in the radio business have completed their third "Ghosts of North Dakota" coffee table book, which is set for release on Aug. 15. What began as a failed radio promotion to document nights spent in haunted houses has become a project that won't stop. Larson thinks they could do more than 20 volumes. They've sold about 10,000 books so far.
"There's still an abundance of North Dakota places left," Hinnenkamp said.
Other discoveries on the road to Volume 3 included numerous historic structures that have been converted to homes, mostly in the middle of the oil patch where housing is hard to come by. There's a post office in Sentinel Butte and a church in Wabek, among others, that have been resurrected to provide shelter.
Larson's most treasured photos in the new book are those from the town of Senger, and not necessarily for the images themselves. He and Hinnenkamp were driving into the town and got caught in the middle of an old-fashioned cattle drive.
"All of a sudden we had 100 head of cattle all over the road, all around the car looking into the windows," Larson said. "Terry quickly grabbed his camera and got some great shots."
The other interesting part of Senger, Larson said, is that it was a ghost town when they last visited in 2006. Now there are two men living there.
"For us that was a good story line. A ghost town that's no longer a ghost town," Larson said.
Hinnenkamp's favorite part of the upcoming book is a 19-page special section on the abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station, near the borders of Montana and Canada. Although some of the facilities have been demolished for salvage, the housing units, bar, gymnasium and radar stations are still standing.
"Walking those streets you can still envision what it was like for the people who lived on that base," Hinnenkamp said. "Even with the walls falling apart, it kind of gives you a glimpse back into the past. It's just isolated enough that you're kind of separated from everything. It's like a whole different world."
The cover of the third book is the St. John's Lutheran Church in Arena. Hinnenkamp calls it the iconic image of church out in the middle of the field "that still stands and still has that hope about it." Larson said readers of the book and GhostsofNorthDakota.com website love photos of churches the most, but this is the first one to grace a cover.
"I don't think we ever had the right high quality photo to go on the cover until we got that church," Larson said.