My friend Toby Uecker is home for the summer from grad school at Miami University (in Ohio—even though I told Toby to pick a less confusing location). Today, we went adventuring around Baltic, where I got a Freecycle lead on some old railroad ties. I've been hoping to get some old timbers to use for landscaping, and my lead said we could pick some up ties a mile south of Baltic along the Ditch Road.
I look at Toby: "I hope that's more road than ditch."
We head in to Baltic on 250th Avenue (also known, according to Google Maps, as "Lovely Ave"). On the way, we see Big Sioux Road, but no Ditch Road. In contradiction to all popular wisdom about men, we stop to ask directions. The folks at the D&D Market downtown (on St. Olaf Street, a chuckle Toby texts to a friend who attended that college in Northfield) are plenty helpful... but contradictory. The gal recognizes the name "Ditch Road" right away and tells us go back west from town, then south. The guy says no, we need to go south out of town past the trailer park. "You'll see the dead end, then you go right. You come to another dead end, then you turn left."
Two dead ends—I am skeptical. Plus, I have a hypothesis that maybe the locals referred to the Big Sioux as the Ditch. Toby doesn't mind, and we're neither one on a schedule, so we choose to try the lady's directions first. We head west, then south down the Big Sioux Road. It parallels and hops what looks to us like an irrigation ditch. We hit a lovely windy part, see some gorgeous farmsteads (not to mention a few big houses built with Sioux Falls money), but no railroad let alone loose ties.
We end up five miles south of town. Toby and I still don't mind: we're having fun talking and gawking and making jokes about railroad guys whose conception of "mile south of town" is less than accurate. We turn east, go another mile, and—lo and behold!—railroad. Ditch Road. We head north. The Baltic water tower looms back into view, and sure enough, about a mile shy of town, we find ties strewn along the track. (The guy was right, dead ends notwithstanding. And why didn't I check Google Maps to start with?)
We pull into the ditch, pull on our gloves, and get ready to haul. The ties we find are in remarkably good condition, with nice square edges. "Wow, I'm surprised they're pulling these..." and then it hits us simultaneously. These are probably the new ties they plan to install. Toby and I both imagine getting a dozen ties loaded, hearing the sirens, and making Wheel of Felons. We laugh and mosey another 100 yards north, where we find the old ties that have been pulled. We spend the noon hour loading.
How'd we do?
We make off with 40 ties altogether. Why did we stop there?
Ah, that's why. (Zoom in left: 605-428-3299—free plug for Dressen Custom Trailers! Even if we had busted the trailer, we could have just gotten another one from Dressen just four miles north!)
Our fine work warrants a fine meal. As you can see above, we park our load next to Nordic Park (and Toby wonders: why not Lithuanian Park? Latvia Commons? Estonia Green?) and walk downtown. St. Olaf Street is bustling: day care, grocery store, auto shop, bank, library, even a funeral parlor! But unless we missed a deli in the D&D, no place to eat. So we walk to the fine dining section of town, a whole block away, on Lovely Ave. Three choices:
- the gas station with, we're guessing, the standard convenience store packaged chow;
- the liquor store, which appears to have some food, though we don't go in to verify; and
- The Fire Pit Bar & Grill.
It's 1:30 p.m. (happy hour from 1 to 3, says the banner out front). A sign on the bar reads Tuesday lunch: meatballs, mashed potatoes, gravy, beans. But we find the joint empty, save the gal in charge.
"Any lunch left?" I ask.
"Maybe, but I don't know if it's warm," she says.
"Heck, warm can be fixed!" I say.
She heads back to the kitchen. "Yup, there's some left."
"Let's have lunch!" Toby and I take a seat, chat over the noise from the bar TV (Judge Alex? Come on: a real judge would have a last name, like Dredd). And in no time, we each get a hot, heavy plate of meatballs and thick mashed potatoes slathered in white gravy. I expected brown beans, but to our delight, we got green beans, as well as two half-slices of well-buttered white bread. We dig in, but our hostess isn't done. Without comment, she returns a couple minutes later with two pieces of chocolate cake. Not fancy Black Forest cake with cherries and artfully dripped syrup; just the same familiar brown chocolate cube that your mom makes and that the bar gal probably makes for her family.
We didn't know there was cake. We didn't ask for cake. We got cake.
At such silly, simple moments, it is hard to believe that the entire world is not as good and decent as the meal before you and the friend with whom you are sharing it.
Our bill: $10. Yup. $5 a plate. I've spent more at McDonald's and eaten worse. We pay, tip, and leave the joint empty for the afternoon. We walk off our hefty lunch, then drive home with our ties. Heck of a summer day.