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70/100 - Bill | by Robert P Baxter
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70/100 - Bill

At home for the holidays in the little town of Minot, North Dakota, I figured it was a great time to look for a variety of new strangers. I was out running some errands and doing some shopping so I decided to sit down in the central plaza of the local shopping center and wait for someone to catch my mind. A half hour passed as random people bustled about with their shopping, conversed with friends or generally ignored the rest of the world, but then a man sat down next to me who seemed to have the potential to be an interesting stranger. It's surprising how well my instincts work out sometimes.


Bill just so happens to be the mayor of the little town of Coleharbor, North Dakota. Bill is also a farmer for life. He grows wheat, durham, peas and sunflowers as well as raises beef cattle. He loves the lifestyle and wouldn't ever change. He and his family were in town for Christmas shopping and since he was in no hurry to go anywhere, he was happy to appease my request for something interesting about him.


I opted to ask Bill for some of the more interesting stories of his life and farming to which he at first had no ideas. After a moment of pondering Bill started off about how life as a little kid on the farm still holds a part of the present. As a child of 8, Bill was too small to pick rocks back in a time before rock picking machinery had developed so his father hired a pack of high school students and put him on the tractor. There he would stand barking out orders. The high school students resented him but couldn't do anything because he was boss' son. Although they would acknowledge his presence when the father was around, they would just stand around and goof off the moment he left, ignoring Bill's command. At times, they would put their feet in front of the tractor and see how long they could remain there before pulling them away. Then one time one of boys let the tractor run over the tip of his foot (although not actually letting it run over his toes) so Bill decided to park the tractor on top of his foot. Needless to say, the hired hand wasn't happy with that. When they finally rolled the tractor off his foot, he came tearing after Bill and if it weren't for one of the permanent employees, not even being the boss' son would have saved him.


Coleharbor is such a small town that Bill still lives amongst those very same people who remember the little 8 year old that bossed them around from the tractor. Ironically though, these same people have kept him in the mayor's seat from year to year. Bill was also well educated in the ways of sex long before he had any working knowledge of the matter as well because of those days.


Right around the time that the story of the rock picking years came to a close, Bill's wife and daughter showed up to announce their next stop and inquire about my interview. Before departing, they suggested he bring up the topic of Grammy; an excellent topic according to Bill. Grammy is Bill's still-living grandmother of 96 years and a source of much amusement in hindsight. Grammy was well known around the community and worked for the US Census Board until 91 years of age with much success since nobody would say no or kick an old lady out of their house.


Grammy also had a propensity to be a terrible driver. She was quite often pulled over for speeding. Once when Bill was young, they were pulled over during a food delivery; an cause of great irritation to Grammy. Not only was she belligerent with the highway patrol officer, she rolled up the window with the officer's hand still inside and proceeded to drive away with him in tow. The poor officer was stuck running along with the vehicle knocking on the window trying to get her to stop. Ironically enough, he still let her go, given that she had her grand kids in the car with her.


Grammy's bad nature while driving went so far as hit and runs. On multiple occasions she would try to drive away from an accident. Once she tried to pull away even though her car was snagged to the other and the driver was standing there staring at her. Another time five years ago she caught the tail end of a semi and although she only popped a couple of the trailer's tires, she tore off the front end of her car and still drove away. Everyone in town knew Grammy so of course they knew what had happened yet as the police went searching for a witness, nobody would testify against her. Soon enough, Bill started receiving phone calls of people saying "they're looking for Grammy again". Ironically all they really needed to do was go find the license plate still attached to the bumper lying at the accident site. The incident led to the authorities taking the driver's license from a 91-year old woman but somehow they gave it right back to her three months later. It's no wonder that Bill's family kept her on a very high risk insurance policy.


This picture is #70 in my 100 strangers project, started on February 14th, 2009. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at

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Taken on December 22, 2009