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TRAVELING JACK

Posted 1/31/17 (Tue)

By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

Last spring, my Minneapolis gal pal and I took three days and drove around southwestern North Dakota, camping in a tent, eating at bars and ending up in places where signs say, “Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out.”
By day three, we had tried to ascend a slippery White Butte, walked in the wagon ruts at Fort Dilts, stood at the tri-point of Montana and the Dakotas and been chased out of Rhame by a man who claimed he owned the roads.
Abby and I were hopping from town to town on U.S. Highway 12, and had just gotten back on the highway from visiting Haley (population: 3), when Gascoyne appeared on the horizon.
Gascoyne had 16 residents in 2010. Hard to say how many now. I’m a sucker for small towns and local history, and a schoolhouse there scratched that itch.
We rolled up on the schoolhouse, parking Barbie (Abby’s car) by the school’s sagging backside.
A half-collapsed portico graced the front, and a series of broken out windows nearly rounded the entire building. What a picture.
To be a child taught here, decades ago, in a schoolhouse with an unimpeachable view of the prairie? Where’s Laura Ingalls to write about this?  
Dozens of old desks were stacked and scattered inside the Gascoyne schoolhouse, and after our flurry of photography, Abby and I left, headed for Reeder, Bucyrus and other points southwest.
To my disappointment, last week I learned the Gascoyne schoolhouse is no more.
My sources say the sagging, graceful old building was demolished late last year, and (gasp) with its desks still inside.
News like that usually always pulls at my heart. An old rural church coming down, a beautiful downtown structure destroyed, it’s all sad.
A year ago I was able to photograph a 129-year-old Lutheran church near Reynolds days before a controlled burn brought it down.
I’ve visited a leaning brick elevator in Merricourt twice now because I’m convinced its days are numbered.
But I was too late last year to see a long abandoned church with an unusual steeple located west of Tioga. It too, like the Gascoyne schoolhouse, met the wrecking ball.
Among my mantras are “Everything has an end,” and “Life’s hard and then you die.” That second one I get from my mother, but her version is a little coarser.
Everything does indeed have an end. Nothing lasts forever. Even those 152-year-old wagon ruts at Fort Dilts will erode away one day.
And life certainly is hard. Imagiine, for a moment, if you were the Gascoyne schoolhouse. Wow, is thisreally how it ends? Torn down with my desks still inside?
Decades of abandonment and it all ends so quickly.
Rural explorers like me love the forlorn and forgotten places on the prairie. I once drove from Fargo to Edgeley just to see a church, a spindly, collapsing thing that a great gust of wind could knock down with ease.
I’m also guilty of a road trip to Watford City a year ago for few reasons, among them to see the Schafer jail.
I can’t say many people share my interest in abandoned places. My mother is indifferent and Dad just says, “Don’t fall through the floor, kid,” as he scrolls through gunbroker.com.
No worries, Dad. Hasn’t happened yet.
My friends poke fun at my hobby, but they’ve been known to join me climbing into an old church steeple or two, or at least waiting patiently in the truck.
So rest in peace, Gascoyne schoolhouse. You won’t be forgotten, because I’ve got too many pictures.