Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One man’s dream: Build it and it shall sail, the story of the Hjemkomst November 14, 2012

The Hjemkomst.

I REMEMBER BEING ONE of the skeptics.

Build a ship in the middle of nowhere, haul it to Lake Superior in Duluth and then eventually sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Norway.

Who thinks that is possible?

A plaque honoring ship builder and captain Robert Asp, located in the Hjemkomst Center, Moorhead, Minnesota. The steps, left, lead visitors to a deck for viewing of the open ship interior.

Robert Asp.

Thirty years ago the Hjemkomst, a ship built by this Moorhead, Minnesota, junior high school counselor, with the help of family and friends, accomplished that 4,700-mile feat, proving the skeptics wrong.

The photo on right, by Tim Hatlestad, shows the Hjemkomst sailing into the harbor of Bergen, Norway.

By then, Asp had died, passing away in December 1980 at the age of 57 from leukemia. But his family pursued his dream, launching the ship on May 11, 1982, for the journey back to the Asp family Motherland on the Hjemkomst, which translates from Norwegian into English as “homecoming.”

Looking up to the mast and sails.

Hearing the Hjemkomst story many years ago is one thing. Seeing Asp’s ship permanently docked in the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead is another. Only by viewing the ship and learning its story in detail can you truly appreciate the determination of a man to fulfill a dream.

A small section of the museum exhibit on the Hjemkomst.

And details you will find in the museum exhibit, these among the highlights I pulled from the wealth of information revealed during a recent visit to the Hjemkomst Center:

  • In the summer of 1971, Bob Asp and his brother Bjarne talked about their Viking heritage over coffee and joked about building a Viking ship to sail to Norway.
  • Bob began searching in the Alvarado area, 18 miles north of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and six miles east of Oslo, Minnesota, in the spring of 1972 for oak trees with which to build the Hjemkomst. Eventually 100 oaks would be used in the ship construction.
  • In November 1973, Bob leased a former potato warehouse in Hawley, 22 miles east of Moorhead, in which to construct his replica of the Viking ship Gokstad. Archeologists discovered the Gokstad in 1880 in Gokstad, Norway. Bob based the Hjemkomst on that ship.
  • The purpose of his ship, according to Bob, was “to further the Norwegian image and heritage.”
  • In 1976, Bob was offered $25,000 by a man who wanted to hire a crew to finish building the Hjemkomst for a tall ship parade in New York City. Bob declined the offer.
  • The ship’s keel was laid in 1974 and, after six years of construction, the vessel was christened in 1980 at the “Hawley Shipyard.”
  • In August 1980, the Hjemkomst was lowered into Lake Superior in the Duluth harbor.
  • On May 11, 1982, a 13-member crew began the voyage across Lake Superior with 12 continuing on to Bergen, Norway. The trip would take 72 days, covering 4,700 miles.
  • The ship was eventually returned via freighter to the U.S. and today is permanently at home in the Hjemkomst Center near the banks of the Red River of the North.

As impressed as I was by viewing the actual Hjemkomst and by reading the detailed time-line of its construction, launch and voyage, I was even more impressed by the fortitude of Bob Asp.

A dream come true “button” attached to the side of the Viking ship replica.

He dared to dream.

Here’s a quote from the museum: “Constructed in a sea of grain, a prairie with no ocean in sight, this Viking ship was built board-by-board with determination and sailed to Norway.”

He dared to continue on, even in the face of skeptics and illness (he was diagnosed with leukemia in July 1974).

A plexi board upon which museum visitors can post their dreams.

He dared to believe in himself. Therein lies a legacy of inspiration that teaches all of us the value of holding on to dreams.

A sign of support from the grain elevator in Hawley, where the ship was built.

A quote from Rose Asp, Bob Asp’s wife.

The interior of the Hjemkomst as seen from a second floor viewing deck.

A sign on the ship honors the Asp brothers for their military service.

This dragon head was attached to a canoe, dubbed Hjemkomst Jr., and shown in parades to promote the ship project.

Some of the gear and equipment from the Hjemkomst.

Moorhead, Minnesota, Asp’s home and now the Hjemkomst’s permanent home.

In the center of the Hjemkomst Center, the mast area of the Hjemkomst ship dominates the roofline.

FYI: The Hjemkomst Center is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesdays and from noon – 5 p.m. Sundays. It is closed some holidays. There is free admission from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. every third Tuesday. Admission prices vary. Click here to link to a $1 off admission coupon and for other coupon savings in Fargo/Moorhead.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Lake Agnes love story June 24, 2011

IT APPEARED TO BE nothing short of a love story played out on a west central Minnesota lake.

Two love birds—or more accurately, ducks—met along the shoreline of Lake Agnes in Alexandria which, to those of you who do not live in Minnesota, claims to be the birthplace of America what with the Kensington Runestone and all found here.

But I digress.

The mallards cared not one wit about the vikings or the Runestone or even me, watching their every move. The drake and the hen had eyes only for each other.

And so the romance spawned on Lake Agnes, on this lake with the name of Greek (not Scandinavian) origin meaning pure/holy/chaste.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lunch at the Viking Cafe June 15, 2011

The Viking Cafe in Fergus Falls.

“We r eating at the viking café in fergus falls,” I texted.

“Oh boy,” she texted back.

Oh, boy, indeed.

Typically I don’t text while dining because I consider such phone usage rude. But my husband and I had arrived in this western Minnesota community within the hour and I wanted our three kids to know we’d gotten there safely. I figured the Viking message would amuse them.

Only the middle daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, texted back. The second daughter was busy with a wedding and the teenage son opted to ignore the message.

We didn’t explore any other noonish eating options in Fergus Falls. When we drove downtown, I hadn’t even mentioned the Viking to Randy. But my spouse spotted it and pulled into the one available parking space practically in front of the restaurant.

It was only then that I told him I had read about the Viking in Tasty Foods along Minnesota’s Highways. This was meant to be.

Kim Embretson confirmed our decision. I had never met Kim until that moment, when I stepped from the car, saw him strolling toward us and figured he looked like a local.

“Is that a good place to eat?” I inquired after approaching him and learning that he was, indeed, from Fergus Falls.

Kim praised the Norwegian-American restaurant, suggesting we try a daily special such as the meatloaf, hotdish or a pork or beef sandwich and the homemade soup. He got me right then and there. I’m a soup lover. The vegetable soup sometimes includes rutabagas, something typically not found in veggie soup, Kim said.

And when I asked about sites to see and things to do in Fergus, Kim pointed us to the wine and panini bar, The Spot, across the street; to the art fair around the corner; to the Kaddatz Galleries in the next block; to the river walk; and, because I asked, to the kitschy otter statue in Adams Park. He even gave us specific directions to the park and directed us to the metal goose sculpture at the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

Fergus Falls tourism people, Kim rates as a fine, fine spokesman for your community. He gave us more details than I’ve written here. Every town should have someone so enthused about where they live.

As a side note, he also cheered the Roadside Poetry Project, which was the specific reason we traveled to Fergus—to see my winning poem splashed across four billboards.

The well-marked Viking Cafe, established in 1967.

I was getting downright hungry, so we thanked Kim for his suggestions and walked toward the Viking Café, which has been around since 1967. Prior to that, another restaurant was housed in the building beginning in the 1930s or 1940s, depending on your information source.

Enter the Viking and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

The view, once you step into the Viking Cafe. The lunch counter is on the right. A viking ship is suspended from the ceiling. Swords and shields adorn the walls in a viking-themed decor.

Two rows of ramrod straight wooden booths define this long, narrow eatery anchored on one side by an old-fashioned lunch counter. The place even has a candy counter, for gosh sakes, and an oversized bubble gum machine tucked into a corner next to the coat/hat racks.

Napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers sidle up next to ketchup bottles on tables.

Stools line the lunch counter stretching nearly the length of the cafe.

A Norman Rockwell print hangs on the wall by the coat racks and bubble gum machine right inside the cafe entry.

An old-fashioned candy counter at the front of the viking-themed restaurant.

Primary restaurant seating is in these vintage wooden booths.

Waitresses hustle to booths at an almost frantic pace, taking orders and delivering our food in the short time it takes me to circle the room once snapping pictures. Randy has ordered the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of peas with a mini strawberry shortcake for dessert. I’ve selected a bowl of vegetable soup and a roast beef sandwich on whole wheat bread slices.

I’m typically not a fan of meatloaf, but even I like the meatloaf sampled from Randy’s plate. We agree that his food and my soup, which includes a homemade dumpling, and my sandwich qualify as  simple, good comfort food at reasonable, reasonable prices—$6.40 and $6.95 for our respective plates.

Our food: meatloaf with mashed potatoes and vegetable soup with a beef sandwich.

But it’s the atmosphere, more than the food, which I appreciate about the Viking on this Saturday. From the wooden booths to the well-worn tile floors to the viking décor to the lunch counter, especially the lunch counter stools, this café evokes simpler days. You cannot help but feel better for having eaten here, having experienced this slice of Americana where a cell phone feels so much out of place.

Menus are stacked on a counter below a shelf of viking decor.

Another view of those lunch counter stools, looking from the back of the cafe toward the front.

Looking from the back of the cafe, which is semi dark (for photos), toward the front.

CAFE BONUS: If you need to use the facilities, you will have to walk downstairs to the basement. That’s where I discovered this little gem, at the bottom of the stairs. I think this piece of memorabilia should be moved upstairs, where the dining public can view, maybe even use, it.

A character reading machine which apparently reads your character based on your weight, or something like that.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling