Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

Fixing the Mold: Painting Models of Fur Trade-Era Rifles

The education team at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum is working to develop a fur trade program similar to the “Red River Rendezvous” interpretive program created at the Pembina State Museum. The Pembina program uses a pair of muskets that a former site supervisor at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center manufactured. He hand-carved a model and formed several silicone molds, which he tested before pouring the resin to create the rifles for Pembina.

I paint tiny, nerdy things. One of the side effects of this hobby is that people often mistakenly think that because I paint little plastic figures I can paint larger things as well. During my 12 years of painting, I have learned a lot of tips and tricks, but these do not always translate to larger items. Nevertheless, I volunteered to take on the task of fixing up and painting a couple of miscast test models for the ND Heritage Center program, which was a worthy challenge.

The rifles were so long I could not use my regular painting table and had to prepare a special workspace for this project.

The problems with these rifles arose from the molding process. Mold lines are a common feature of any molded item. These lines are a byproduct of the casting process. As the two halves of the mold come together, gaps or misalignments can cause lines to form at the halfway mark. Besides the mold lines, air bubbles in the resin had caused pockets and holes. I needed to trim the tip of the rifle barrel as one half-circle section was longer than the other. Oh, and one of the rifle’s sights was missing.

Mold lines running down the middle of the rifle’s barrel. The gun was also missing the sight and had many scuff marks.

Here, air bubbles in the resin rose to the surface and left holes during the casting process.

To fix these issues, I started with an Exacto knife and trimmed the barrel to make it even. I also scraped away mold lines to make the join line as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, I could not completely eliminate the mold lines without potentially damaging the desired shape of the rifles. I would try fixing these in the painting process using an acrylic resin. I had to turn to a different tool and skill set to address the air bubbles and missing sight.

In the world of miniatures, there is a substance called “green stuff.” Its actual name is Kneadatite. Green stuff has two parts—a yellow filler and a blue hardener. Mixing the two parts produces a sticky green modeling putty with unique properties often used for filling gaps in miniatures. Before 3D sculpting with computer programs like Blender or ZBrush became common in manufacturing miniatures, green stuff was the medium of choice for skilled artisans to sculpt original miniatures. While most of my green stuff work was filling holes, several areas required a bit of sculpting, such as the missing sight. With most of the problem areas fixed, it was time to prime and paint. A quick spray of brown primer got these rifles ready for my brushes.

Kneadatite before being mixed.

A fresh batch of green stuff ready to fill air holes and fix other imperfections in the rifles.

Using a silicone sculpting tool, I smoothed the green stuff into place, so it looks like it always belonged.

A close-up as I push green stuff into the same holes as above.

Lovely spring weather allowed for outdoor priming.

My biggest challenge when painting large items is making them look real when viewed up close. I have tricks for painting 28 mm scale wood grain, but those don’t work on life-size models. One of the education team’s first decisions was that we did not want to make the rifles look too real. This program might travel to schools, and we wouldn’t want to cause alarm. It is also one of the reasons we did not include the trigger and firing mechanism on the finished product. These were also the parts most likely to break, according to the staff at Pembina.

The paint process for the metal was pretty simple. I applied a base coat of silver followed by a technique called shaded metallics, which you can read all about in a past blog post about painting patina. This gave me a nice worn metal look. I followed a similar process for the brass. Trying to find the right color for the wood on the rifle took some thought and looking at lots of reference images. In the end I found a medium brown color from Vallejo Acrylic Paints that worked for a base coat on the main body of the rifle. I added a few other colors to create wood variations on other parts of the rifle. Then I ran into a problem. In my original plan, I wanted to use a brown ink to help shade in the wood’s nooks, crannies, and crevices. After completing one side, I could tell I had made a terrible mistake on the first gun.

The rifle on the left has had the shaded metallics treatment applied; the one on the right shows what the metal looked like beforehand.

I used a thinner coat of brass on top of the darker metallic undercoat to make it look worn.

In my years of painting, I have taught several individuals how to paint miniatures. One of the first things I always tell them is that most painting involves fixing your mistakes. You will mess up at some point, but everything is fixable. For this project, all I had to do was repaint the wood color and fix where the ink had dripped down and across my completed gun barrel in a couple of spots. The only thing lost was the time spent redoing those sections.

The next problem I needed to overcome was the butts of the rifles. The rifles at Pembina State Museum either had another piece that we made to cover the gun butts or were finished to look that way. After pondering the issue for several weeks, I found examples of trade guns with the stock wrapped in leather. At first that seemed easy enough to pull off, and I even went out and bought supplies. But I soon realized that I was out of my depth. A quick phone call later, I recruited the best seamstress I knew to help me. And all it cost me was bringing one of the grandkids along.

This decision proved one of my best. With my mom’s help, we created a pattern and cover. She also had a much better selection of leather pieces than I could find at the store. So we were able to come up with something we both thought worked well.

With the help of reference photos and the sewing expertise of my mom, we were able to cover the gun butts with faux leather.

My son, Calvin, takes a break from playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from my childhood to help me try some weathering on a spare piece of leather.

With the covers completed, I only had one step left. I needed to add the classic trade gun decoration of brass tacks. The tacks were cast separately for the original program rifles and later glued into place. I admit it was probably the fastest way to complete this task, but casting resin is not a skill I have learned—yet. I went with what I knew and used real tacks. With a pin vise tool, I drilled small holes into the rifle. I tried to match patterns I had seen in different reference photos. A small problem arose with my tacks being longer than I could drill into the rifle, so I snipped the ends. After a drop of glue to secure each tack, I could finally call this project done.

A pin vise is used to drill holes into the rifle.

Overall, this was a fun challenge. Plus, it is always great to help with any project that improves the offerings of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. I estimate I spent close to 20 hours on this project. All of it was worth it. These rifles will be used in Medora at the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site as part of an August teacher workshop that we are presenting on trade and transportation. Be sure to sign up if you are a teacher and want to see these rifles in person.

My completed masterpieces with brass tacks in place.

How I Created a Cattle Roundup Card Game

Almost everyone I know who collects board games toys with the idea of creating their own. I have been playing around with the mechanics of games since I was a kid. Much to the annoyance of my family, I was constantly changing the rules or using the game pieces to create my own game. Even though my family couldn’t understand it, I was experimenting to improve games we often played. Could I make the games more fun? Or even make my own game? Fast forward to today, and I own over 100 board games (or nearly 200 depending on how you count). So when an opportunity came up to design my own game, I had to take it.

The opening occurred during a meeting with our Education and Engagement Manager Laura Forde and Anna Killian, then-site supervisor for the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site. At the time, we were planning a teacher workshop at the Chateau focusing on the 1880s cattle boom. The first thing that came to mind was a premise for a game. I shared it with the group—initially pitching it as a cattle roundup activity—and it made the list. Now I just needed to design the game.

The concept was simple. Make a game based on the children’s card-matching game Memory where you hunt for the cattle that match your brand in a herd. That basic idea was a good start, but I needed to flesh it out a bit more. I thought about what other concepts I would want to convey to my students besides what is a roundup. My list came out as follows:

  • Law and order
  • Rustling
  • The economics of cattle
  • Math

As I started thinking about the game mechanics needed to capture these ideas, the biggest challenge appeared to be having too many ideas. I had several ways that I could handle rustling, but which would be best? Playtesting would be needed to answer that question. So I took a couple of days to draft some rules. Writing these rules was the most challenging part, as I had to devise a way to put them on paper so that non-gamers could easily understand them. Once my rules were drafted, the next step was to build a prototype.

There is a surprising amount of math that goes into designing a game. I needed to figure out how many cards to make. It was like solving a dreaded story problem in a math textbook. If the game consists of three rounds, and during each round the players must find four cows to sell, how many cows must each initial herd contain? The answer was 16. To work in the economics of raising cattle, I wanted to find a way to represent the fact that you want to sell cattle in their prime. Players would need to sell the cattle at the right time to get top dollar. If they sell too early or too late the cow would be worth less money. For the game, I represented a year as a round of play. Each round, the players try and find the four best cows to sell. I also had to figure out the different dollar amounts for each cow card and ensure the spread was even among the three rounds. I also worked in a turn counter so that if the players took too many turns trying to find their cattle they would incur a penalty. Now they have an economic choice to either pay the penalty or sell a subprime cow. Once I knew the number of cards needed, I used Photoshop to make quick designs. I spent the next two days cutting out the cards and sliding them into plastic sleeves, placing a playing card between the front and back card to provide stability. Once assembled, I had six full-sized herds and two sets of rules to test.

A pile of cards waits to be cut out and sleeved. Also visible are the Post-It notes used to figure out my card numbers.

Unfortunately, I spaced the cards too close together to feel comfortable using a paper cutter. As a result, I had to cut out all the cards by hand.

My original plan was to have our certified interpretive gallery guide, Tom Chase, test the game with visitors to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. I taught him and another interpretive gallery guide, Kristi Carpenter, how to play one afternoon. Though they never had time to try it with guests, playing with them taught me a few things. For example, six players would be too many. Running out of time, I recruited my wife’s family (my usual game group) to spend an afternoon playing the game several times so that I could test the rules. We had a lot of fun, and I got the answers that I needed to my rules-related questions.

Family members Brian and Roxanne Rosin helped me playtest the game and gave valuable insights, such as to make sure the playing cards all had the same backside next time. That design flaw may have given them an unfair advantage during the initial testing phase.

Equipped with my final designs, I had the cards printed just in time for our workshop in Medora. Watching the teachers play the game was fun. Many responded that they enjoyed the game and thought their students would also love it. Being teachers, they quickly picked up on the historical themes. I even had one teacher say that they would love to use it for their economics class. Based on feedback, I will make a few simple changes before sending them the design files and final rules so they can make their own copies of the game.

Teachers play the game as part of our North Dakota Studies teacher workshop at the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site.

This game was only one of many lessons and activities workshop attendees experienced and were able to bring back to their class.

So now that the game exists, what is next? Well, there is some interest in the State Historical Society of North Dakota turning this game into a sellable product. It is currently going through the editors, who are waiting for me to review their suggestions and questions while I write this blog post. We will also work with our new media specialists to improve my Photoshop work. Maybe one day you will be able to buy a copy for yourself. As for me, as much fun as this process has been, I think I will put my budding game design career on hold for the foreseeable future and spend a bit more time playing games with my family.

My wife, Kate, gets some help from our daughter, Auri.

My son, Calvin, checks to see whether a cow matches our brand.

Passionate Local Communities Embrace Smaller State Historic Sites

My phone rings, and it is a number I have never seen. Grabbing a notebook and pencil, I answer the call. The person on the other end of the line wants to discuss a small, remote state historic site that is missing a sign. Phone calls like this are a common occurrence. While I primarily manage staffed sites, there is nothing more rejuvenating than seeing people’s passion for their local state historic site.

Often when I get the chance to write a blog post for the agency, I tend to focus on our larger staffed sites, but we also manage numerous smaller properties that we regularly take care of, though do not have daily staff on site. Many of these are campsites relating to the punitive campaigns of Brig. Gen. Henry Sibley and Bvt. Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully, places where the army camped for a night or two before moving further west. While the punitive campaigns and their lingering wounds are an important North Dakota story, some of these campsites are not much more than a footnote in history. Some campsites are near local communities that have embraced them and assist with their care.

One of these is Lake Jessie State Historic Site near Binford in Griggs County. This spot marks campsites for several significant expeditions across northern Dakota Territory between 1839 and 1889. Located in the backyard of a family who has farmed the land for generations, the site is often overshadowed by the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site to the southeast. To access Lake Jessie, one must follow a designated path through the private property of the Helland family, who provides public access. Some people may hesitate to drive into the farmyard and through their hay corral to get there. But if you do, you will likely receive a friendly greeting from owner Lowell Helland.

The Helland family developed a love of history from meeting with Dana Wright, a former State Historical Board member and chairman of the State Parks Committee. In 1953, Wright drove out to Rudy and Thelma Helland’s farmyard. He asked their permission to bring members of the Barnes County Historical Society to their farm as part of a tour on Sibley sites. The Hellands agreed and listened to Dana’s presentation that next Sunday.

Wright’s visit left a mark on the Hellands. Nearby sites came alive for Rudy, Thelma, their children, and Rudy’s brothers. Rudy’s brother Fritz would lead the creation of the Griggs County Historical Society and the Griggs County museum in response to a challenge from a local businessman who said he would donate a Case steam engine if these entities existed.

The Hellands are incredibly proud of the site, and their passion is noteworthy. Rudy and Thelma’s children (Arden, David, Lowell, and Karen) have continued to love and take care of the site. I have had the pleasure of meeting with them on several occasions to discuss how the site will be cared for in the future. It is clear that they have a love for history, the Lake Jessie State Historic Site, and Dana Wright.

View of the isthmus between Lake Jessie and Lake Addie. Though barely visible in this photo, Lake Jessie State Historic Site is located on this thin strip of land with the red arrow pointing to its location.

The Helland family has cared for the little state historic site in their backyard since its establishment in 1955. They even created a museum on the site out of an old rail car.

In the far southwest corner of the state sits Fort Dilts State Historic Site. This site marks the end of Capt. James Fisk’s failed wagon train to the gold fields of Montana. The site is recognized as the only documented place where a wagon train circled the wagons during an attack, but there is more to the story. Some accounts include the possibility that Fisk was using the wagon train as a cover for hauling a large load of whiskey to the gold fields for his private profit. The community of Bowman embraces this location as its historic site. It features within several of the exhibits at the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in Bowman. For years, one local historian, Dean Pearson, has printed and posted his interpretive panels at the site to tell the story. His work helped inform our panels, which we hope to have up at the site this summer.

Fort Dilts State Historic Site near Rhame not only boasts an exciting story, but the local community often asks about opportunities to promote the site.

Local communities can also become protective of sites. In 1987, the county commissioners in Divide County tried to stop the Rough Riders Motorcycle Club from holding its annual bike rally at Writing Rock State Historic Site north of Grenora. The local community feared the bikers might cause damage to the site. In the end, the bikers were allowed to have their rally, but it did not diminish the community’s perceived sense of ownership. They continue to work with the State Historical Society to improve the site, including during our most recent project, which involved replacing old playground equipment.

The new playground equipment at Writing Rock represented a partnership between Divide County and the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The June 2022 opening was well attended by the local community.

The passion communities have for their local state historic site is always encouraging. I get their passion. I feel the same way about all of the sites I manage. The worst part of my job is sometimes having to tell people that although the project they want is on our list, I can’t move theirs to the top. Our team of staff working primarily on state historic sites is pretty small. We have two historic site managers (including myself), one architecture project manager, a construction supervisor and his crew of four, 12 site supervisors and their teams, and seasonal staff. That is not a lot for nearly 60 sites. Luckily, we get a lot of help from other individuals around the agency. However, some of our biggest helpers are community volunteers and friends groups. If you are interested in assisting with your local state historic site, feel free to contact the State Historical Society, and we will let you know how you can help.

State Historic Sites Keep Me On My Toes As The Summer Season Begins

Another summer season is upon us! It is the most exciting time of the year. Every day when I get to work fresh opportunities present themselves. This is part of what I like about being a historic sites manager. It is never the same. Sure, there are routine tasks I do regularly, but most of the time I walk into work with a different agenda for the day than the one I end up with. New projects, mysteries, and challenges arise to keep me on my toes. Most days, I do not get to my planned agenda before my phone rings, and we are off to tackle some new adventure.

In fall 2020, my phone rang. It was a call about upgrading the playground equipment at Writing Rock State Historic Site near Grenora. The decades-old playground equipment at the site was from the time when the State Historical Society oversaw both historic sites and state parks. The outdated equipment was no longer safe. For the next several months, I worked with officials from Divide County to secure funding and design a new playground set for the site. As part of the project, I applied for several grants, including ones from the John & Elaine Andrist Fund and the Outdoor Heritage Fund. This past winter, the equipment was installed. On June 11 we held a grand opening event, where the community could try out the equipment, and the staff of the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center hosted hands-on games.

The old playground equipment at Writing Rock State Historic Site near Grenora.

New playground equipment at Writing Rock State Historic Site.

One of the biggest improvements we are working on this year is installing an elevator at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site. It is not every day you can make a historic structure Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. Installing the elevator will allow visitors who are unable to climb the stairs to the courtroom to still attend programs there or even court, should the Southeast Judicial District need to use the space again for jury trials as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a massive project that will significantly improve the use of this beautiful building. Plus, it also has revealed some fun little tidbits. We never expected to find beadboard under the paneling of the judge’s platform. We have not seen beadboard anywhere in the courthouse before. Could it be that there was more beadboard in the courthouse, and it was covered when all the tin went up to hide the damage resulting from the 1916 courthouse fire?

Workers from RDA Construction discovered beadboard paneling under the judge’s platform at the Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site.

The floor in the former superintendent's office was removed to make room for the new elevator at the courthouse.

A construction worker stands in the new doorway, which will serve as a second entrance and access point to the elevator.

These are just a couple of the new things we have been working on at state historic sites. We are also in the process of acquiring a helicopter for the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site near Cooperstown. The 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site has several programs planned for the summer, including talks with law enforcement. Fort Totten State Historic Site will feature concerts this month and is working on more events to come. The Chateau de Morès State Historic Site is hosting a prototype exhibit for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library for a limited time. All in all, it’s set to be an excellent summer to check out our wonderful state historic sites.

The Chateau de Morès State Historic Site is hosting a prototype exhibit for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library.

Offseason Provides Opportunity for State Historic Site Improvements

At this time of year, I often get asked about what I do since the majority of the state historic sites I oversee are closed. One of the best parts of working with sites is that no two days are ever the same. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but there is a lot of truth in the statement. During the offseason, I find myself working on various projects for different sites. Each project offers new and unique challenges and allows me to work with our excellent site staff.

One of the projects nearing completion is an upgrade to the playground equipment at Writing Rock State Historic Site, which we undertook in partnership with the Divide County Job Development Authority. You might wonder why we have a playground at a historic site. The playground equipment was installed at the site when it was initially created as a state park in 1936. The State Historical Society of North Dakota operated both state parks and historic sites until the mid-1960s when parks were moved to a separate agency.

The original equipment at Writing Rock was outdated and no longer safe to use. Playground equipment has a lifespan of 20 years. Grondahl Construction installed the new equipment in November. All I have left to do on the project is finish up some grant reporting and install a sign recognizing the contributions of all involved. I have never worked on a project like this before, and it allowed for some great learning opportunities. Plus, I can now amaze my friends with my knowledge of the cost of playground equipment.

Playground equipment with green slides and brown poles and roofs

New playground equipment at Writing Rock State Historic Site.

Another project on my plate this offseason is writing interpretive panels for Fort Dilts State Historic Site. Fort Dilts has long been on our list of sites that need interpretive panels. After its inclusion in the North Dakota Passport, we felt it was time to move it to the top of the list. For the past month, I have been researching the history surrounding the site and have begun to write the panels.

I metal sign reading Fort Dilts 1864 stands outsinde among frosted ground with windmills in the background. There are also 5 gravestones on the right side of the image in the middleground.

Fort Dilts State Historic Site

One project that has been on my list for a long time is creating a video tour of the upstairs of the Chateau de Morès in Medora. Currently, guests who cannot climb the interior staircase have no way of experiencing the Chateau’s upstairs. This past fall, Assistant Site Supervisor Ed Sahlstrom and I recorded a tour of the upstairs. I am currently editing the video, and hopefully, it will be available at the site this summer for guests.

An older man with wihte hair and dark glasses wearing a black and white plaid shirt stands indoor in a house with two open doorways behind him.

Screen capture of a video of Assistant Site Supervisor Ed Sahlstrom describing the upstairs nursery at the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site.

If you are a regular blog reader, you may have seen my post about the Ask-an-Expert program. We continue to work on that program, but we are also expanding our virtual offerings in other ways. We are working with several of our sites to develop virtual tours. We are doing test tours and looking at lighting and sound quality. We are also trying to work with our site staff to make the tour fit within a 45-minute time limit. I am excited for our site staff to share these tours with schools, civics groups, and other museums.

An older gentleman with glasses, long white gray hair and beard, black hat, and denim shirt is shown on the left side of the screenshot while a younger man in khaki pants, green button up shirt, with red hair a beard stands showing the underground capsule at a missile site..

Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site Supervisor Rob Branting shows off one of the underground capsules as part of a trial run of a virtual tour to 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site Supervisor Steve Reidburn and Historic Sites Manager Chris Dorfschmidt.

In addition to offseason projects, I often help answer questions for the general public about sites. Sometimes these questions require research. For example, a gentleman from the Twin Cities recently contacted me with questions about sites related to the 1863 punitive campaign led by Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley against the Dakota for the 1862 uprising. He wanted to know the exact location of several of the campsites. Thanks to some help from the friendly folks up in the State Archives, I was able to answer his questions.

An empty room with peach colored walls, a bluish gray ceiling, wood floors, one light on the ceiling, two windows with white shades pulled down, and a door on the adjacent wall that is the same color of the walls

The north wing of the hospital building at Fort Totten State Historic Site will eventually house a hands-on exhibition geared toward children.

The projects listed above are a small taste of all of the ones I am currently working on this winter. I could go on about other projects like the children’s exhibit for the north wing of the hospital building at Fort Totten State Historic Site, getting replacement signs made for various historic sites, or making some slight updates to site cards. Then there are all of the other responsibilities that come with being a manager—budgeting, staff development, and hiring. As much as others might think that winter is my quiet time, it can be one of the busiest times of the year. But that said, I enjoy working on all of these projects, making every day different and enjoyable.

The Unglamorous Side of Historic Site Management

One day in the fall of 2018 when I was the site supervisor of Chateau de Morès State Historic Site, my staff and I hosted a bus tour. It was the off-season, and we were short-staffed. Two of my team were at the Chateau, which left the store manager and myself to cover the Interpretive Center. After we greeted the group and showed them the orientation video, they were free to explore the galleries or visit the gift shop. I was in the primary gallery interacting with several of the participants when one walked up to me and said in a sly voice, "You know, when you get older, your aim gets worse."

At first, I wondered what he was talking about, but then he quickly added, "You may need to have somebody clean up your bathroom." All other staff were occupied with their assigned tasks, which left me to wield a mop and clean the sullied restroom stall. While being a site supervisor can be a dream job for some—I know it was for me when I started–it does come with an unglamorous side.

A man stands next to a garden with many trees in the background

Site Supervisor Kyle Nelson pulls weeds as he checks on the victory garden at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

State historic site supervisors have a challenging job. Site supervisors are jacks-of-all-trades, and their positions can be broken down into many roles. For their sites they are the chief administrator, the human resources department, head of maintenance, event coordinator, program creator, lead interpreter, store manager, social media coordinator, marketing department, and even custodian. Some sites have large staff who help with these roles, but at other sites you might see the site supervisor get off the mower to collect admission, sell a souvenir, and then lead a tour.

On top of that, people expect you to be an expert and to speak with authority, especially on all topics of history and preservation. During my initial three months as the Chateau’s site supervisor, I was asked my first question about the historic preservation of a structure on the National Register of Historic Places (not my strongest area of expertise when I started). On the other hand, sometimes people also assume that your historical knowledge includes every aspect and minute detail of your site. While being considered a content expert in the ranching and meatpacking industries during the “Great Dakota Boom” and in the sophisticated home management practices of the aristocracy during the Gilded Age is an ego boost, there are plenty of humbling moments.

If there is a problem, for instance, site supervisors are the ones everybody looks to for answers and guidance. Sure, there are big, noteworthy things that site supervisors and staff do where they receive recognition. They create new programs that benefit tourists and local communities and deal with disasters like wildfires, runaway carriages, and roofs that have blown off historic buildings.

A white building with red trim around the windows and roof is shown with part of the roof blown off

A windstorm in June blew the roof off the girl's dormitory at Fort Totten State Historic Site. Assistant Site Supervisor Lisa Rainbow led the cleanup efforts as Site Supervisor Kyle Nelson was away at the time.

But rarely are people aware of the less-than-glamorous, behind-the-scenes work that goes into the job, like the site supervisor at Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site cleaning bird feces off interpretive panels in the morning or the site supervisor at Fort Totten shoveling snow out of a building with a broken window or crawling under a historic building in the mud to diagnose a wiring problem. When a security alarm goes off at a state historic site at three in the morning, the site supervisor must get up and go check it out, even if it means driving 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back. I know of one site supervisor who even chose to spend his anniversary at a three-hour city council meeting in order to represent the agency on an issue. Site supervisors step up and tackle challenges as they arise because it is what needs to be done.

I’ll never forget the time I was visiting the Oscar-Zero facility at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site last summer, and the site was hosting a large family group. The staff did a great job. However, while preparing to leave the facility for their next location, the visitors exposed a problem with the plumbing, which resulted in both the men and women's toilets clogging simultaneously. Site Supervisor Rob Branting tried his best to expel the clogs and restore proper flow. He called every plumber in the phone book looking for relief but finding a plumber on a Friday afternoon in a rural community can be a challenge. Rob went so far as to walk out into the nearly dried sewage lagoon to see if water was flowing out from the facility. Now that is truly going above and beyond.

A man stands in the middle of many weeds

Site Supervisor Rob Branting walks to the center of a sewage lagoon at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site to check on the water flow.

When I talk about my job, I often talk about how I get to work with fantastic colleagues. The agency and the people of North Dakota are lucky to have hardworking, knowledgeable, and passionate staff supervising our state historic sites. Our historic sites are in good hands, and I am proud of all our site staff's work, whether I hear about it or not. But for the record, I do prefer to hear about it.