Leroy Gustafson is a Viking, Minnesota native-born and raised. I know Leroy through my dad as they are friends. Leroy experienced a lot of Viking’s history so I recently stopped by his home for some hot chocolate, very moist cake and a serving of Viking history.
Leroy is the son of Emil Gustafson who moved to Viking from Waseca, Minnesota in 1892. Leroy’s mother, Andrena Urdahl, was born in Bergen, Norway and tried Iowa and South Dakota before she chose Viking as her home and Emil as her husband. Back when Emil had already selected Northwest Minnesota as home and Andrena was choosing this nation as home, Viking didn’t exist. The closest thing to a town was the old Styrlund store and the Mission Church one mile west of present-day Viking. It seems like such a familiar story but Viking was one of many things created by the new railroad. The Styrlund store gave up it’s old location and followed the railroad to this brand new town in 1905. Ernest Styrlund had delivered groceries on a mule to his far-flung patrons but now joined these patrons in a close community where they could walk to his store. The Mission Church headed for Viking towed by horses hitched to a stump puller and left it’s former location bare until Lakehead Oil built it‘s first pumping station.
Everyday life interests me more than national events when it comes to history. I asked Leroy Gustafson to tell me about everyday life in Viking. Leroy was a former member of the Viking bachelors club but that ended happily with his marriage to Edna Eggen November 28th, 1959. Leroy attended school at District 38 along with eight to sixteen students depending upon the year. This little country school later became Viking’s American Legion Hall. Agriculture is Viking’s silent giant but spoke through everyday life. Horses and men provided the power to seed and harvest but somewhere in the late 1930’s that started to change. Allis Chalmer’s introduced the Model B about this time and John Deere introduced the Model A in 1934. These tractors were more reliable and styled than their predecessors and Viking’s farmers welcomed the extra help.
Horses were still used for lighter work such as haying or hauling grain shocks on a trailer. Viking’s residents liked their work but made time for entertainment. Picnics during the summer or a winter evening of cards at the neighbors were common but a train trip to the county fair was a rare treat. Everyday life sometimes includes sad memories with the happy ones. Leroy showed me the Purple Heart that his brother Bertyl Gustafson earned on January 3rd, 1945. Bertyl exchanged his life for our freedom that day in the Battle of the Bulge.
Leroy Gustafson shared the history he experienced and the history he learned in Viking, Minnesota. It’s part of an important chain that with this column‘s last word, now includes you and me.