A few years back I spent a several weeks working in Moorhead, Minn., and as things go in the interstate twin cities of Fargo, ND and Moorhead, my budget-priced hotel was across the Red River in Fargo. Wandering around one Sunday afternoon, I headed west to where Fargo runs out and Interstate 94 makes one of its infrequent turns before heading west across the prairie.
There, at the end of Main Avenue West, is Bonanzaville USA. A most interesting and eclectic collection of everything from classic bric-a-brac to trains, planes and automobiles.
It’s one of those roadside attractions that’s so common here in the heartland, but one of the biggest you’ll find anywhere. A collection amassed by the Cass County Historical Society, it will satisfy your nostalgic noodle or serve as a fascinating glimpse of old tech. As the trucks and cars whiz by on I-94, this is a great rest stop before that long stretch of no speed limit as you head west, or something to put the prairie in perspective.
They’ve collected everything that has to do with the settling of this region. The biggest items are in the Embden Depot and adjacent train shed, housing a vintage Northern Pacific steam locomotive; the smallest are the knickknacks in the cabins and homes of Pioneer Village.
While it lacks the wide open spaces and lush landscaping of, say, Greenfield Village (Henry Ford’s Americana preserve in Dearborn, Mich.), the tightly packed homes, stores and exhibits of are almost overwhelming.
The local historians don’t seem to turn down any donation. It’s much more than just some static exhibits of old homes. I haven’t found anywhere else that has trains, planes and automobiles — in addition to the depot exhibits, they have a collection of some fine vintage automobiles in the Dahl Car Museum, while a D-Day vet C-47 heads up the Eagles Air Museum.
Where to start? Well, it’s only open from May to mid-October (they do have rather severe winters here), but admission is just $8 for adults and $4 for kids 6-16; children under age 6 are free.
My couple of hours there were a run just to see what I could cover. The train cars and auto museum hit my particular interest. Most of this area was static and a bit dusty when I visited, but given the size of the place, it’s a lot of work for volunteers to keep things going.
The buildings are mostly static displays: kitchens of the past with wood stoves, butter churns, etc; general stores with vintage cans on the shelves. Far cry from Wal-Mart and a 4,000 square foot dream home in the suburbs. Many are originals, moved here and restored, including a town hall, blacksmith shop, log cabins and vintage homes. There’s even the original Wheatland, ND, town hall and jail, moved to the site bit by bit.
Big events are the Fiber Arts Festival, July 24-25, celebrating all things fabric and fiber, and Pioneer Days, Aug. 15-16, which recalls the early days on the prairie.
Next door is the Red River Valley Speedway, a classic dirt track that hosts racing every Wednesday night in the summer. Had a great time watching an evening of racing there, but that’s another story.
Quite a collection for something that’s run by volunteers and owned by a local non-profit. Nearly 50 buildings cover a dozen acres on the western edge of Fargo, as I-94 stays mostly as a straight line for the next 300-plus miles until it hits the Little Missouri National Grassland.
Just remember to take that exit off the interstate. ⚙
Route and Info
- Bonanzaville USA, 1351 W. Main Ave., West Fargo, ND 58078. www.bonanzaville.com, (701) 282-2822.
- Hotels in the area are mostly in Fargo, about six miles east where I-25 meets I-94.
- Restaurants in the area are mostly of the chain variety, but try downtown Fargo. Sammy’s Pizza, 301 Broadway N, Fargo, is a very old-style pizza joint; the chef even tosses the pizzas in the front window. Downtown Fargo also has a number of brew pubs and other interesting spots.