Foster County Independent - The Official Newspaper for Foster County

Good things come in good time. . .


May 23, 2022

It was about this time of year, 22 years ago, when I was on the precipice of my future.

There I was, in my second semester of university, and my roommate had an epiphany: we should “go away” for the summer, she surmised. She had a poster in hand from the Ponderosa Ranch, an amusement park on Lake Tahoe, Nevada, that was built to celebrate the legacy of the popular western TV show, “Bonanza.”

Now this is where many of you, dear readers, will go down memory lane. How many of you watched “Bonanza?” Airing September 1959 to January 1973, the show followed the Cartwright clan on their 640,000 acres of land near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was the longest-running Western series in NBC history when it ended in 1973.

I remember watching reruns of the show as a child. I was drawn to Michael Landon, who played “Little Joe,” through that show. I also enjoyed his acting in “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven.”

Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss,” used his notoriety from the show to open “Bonanza” inspired buffet restaurant chains, such as the Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse. I remember eating at the Bonanza restaurant in Jamestown when I was a kid. It was one of my favorites. But I digress.

Stacey, my roommate, gave me the travel bug with her idea. At the time, officials at the Ponderosa Ranch were recruiting college kids from North Dakota and Minnesota to work at their western-themed amusement park for the summer. They said we had a good work ethic, better than the lazy beach bums out on the coast. Well, that was certainly true. We went in for an interview, and in a whirlwind decided to make the trip.

A few weeks later, we were on our way to Stacey’s home in the Twin Cities, from where we would fly out to Reno to meet our new bosses. It was my first time in an airplane, and her dad worked for Northwest Airlines at the time. We flew “standby” into the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the end of May, just before my brother’s class was to graduate from high school. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t care.

Once there, I immersed myself in the beauty of the mountains and the lake.

Many days I walked “down the mountain” to work, from the 6,400 feet elevation of Incline Village on North Lake Tahoe, to the Ponderosa Ranch. We didn’t have a vehicle, so we relied on our feet and the goodwill of our new friends, several of whom were MSUM and NDSU students.

I used the skills I learned in 4-H and speech to give hourly tours of the Cartwright Ranch House, where they filmed many of the indoor scenes in the show.

I also drew from my senior Communications class at Fessenden High School, taught by Mr. Lloyd Hehr, as we produced a one-act play for regional competition. That acting experience led me to roles as not only Lulu, the saloon girl, in the daily gun fights, but also the bandit that “robbed” the wagons headed up the mountain for breakfast. I shot an old-fashioned revolver loaded with blanks, and I even got fan mail! It’s the closest to celebrity status I’ll probably ever get, and it sure was a rush.

The other skill I learned was portrait photography. Group as large as 30 or more came to the Old Tyme Photo Studio to dress up in the same kinds of costumes I wore everyday on stage. Mothers, brothers, grandfathers and girlfriends donned the western hats, duster coats and flapper dresses for a sepia-tone time capsule they could display on their wall or shelf for years to come. In fact, I still have the picture of me in my bandit costume tucked away in a box somewhere.

I learned a great deal that summer, which was filled with new experiences. I learned how to make friends in a new place, how to take a picture really fast, and how to stop and smell the Sierra junipers once in a while. I also learned that I sound like a Canadian, and that Californians are fascinated by our “accent.”

I experienced a rock concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, then known as 3Com Park due to a $900,000 per year licensing deal with 3Com Corporation. Metallica, one of my favorite bands, was one of the headliners. Kid Rock and Korn also performed that day.

We weren’t old enough to gamble, so our trip to Reno was rather uneventful. We opted to head west to the Pacific Coast and hang out on the Santa Cruz boardwalk and beach amusement park. I ate the most delicious clam chowder, with the freshest seafood I have ever tasted, served in a homemade bread bowl.

I also tried calamari for the first time. Our new friends told us to eat it first, before they would tell us what it really was. That was good advice. I would love to know where I can get good calamari in North Dakota, because it’s rare that I see it on any restaurant menus here.

Here’s my advice to the seniors and college kids, for what it’s worth: Every experience is a lesson. Take it all in, one day at a time. And sometimes you need the patience to take life one moment at a time. Take a deep breath, and cross one item off your list before moving onto the next.

The summer was not without drama, but it was rich in opportunities to grow and learn. I fully intended to go back to Tahoe the next summer, and even started the process to transfer to a California university. However, there was a different plan for me, and instead I spent the next summer in New Rockford, the first of many summers in my now home.

I told my husband that I wanted to take our kids to the Ponderosa Ranch some day. Several years ago I went looking for vacation packages to Lake Tahoe, and I discovered that the ranch and its amusement park closed to the public just a few years after I was there. On September 27, 2004, the land was sold to Incline Village developer David Duffield, and the Ponderosa Ranch became no more than a memory.

Where was I in 2004? Well, my daughter Macey was born in April of that year, and we had moved our little family back to New Rockford in August.

The NR-S senior class motto “Good things come in good time” fits this to a tee. This class has it right. My experience in Lake Tahoe was a good thing, and it came at just the right time.


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