I first heard the term “Norwegian Bachelor Farmer” when I fell head over heels in love with Garrison Keillor’s PBS radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion back in 1982.” My favorite part of the program was..and is..Keillor’s “News from Lake Wobegon;”an account of the people and week’s events in the fictional little Minnesota town of his youth.
Keillor’s humorous and often poignant ramblings have always struck a nostalgic chord with me and all listeners who grew up in and around towns just like Lake Wobegon “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”
I must admit, though, if there was a real town that most closely resembles Lake Wobegon, not only in size and proximity of lake to land but also in real life characters it’s Hendricks, Minnesota.
My friend and longtime Keloland colleague has been telling me about the unique folks of Hendricks ever since he built a cabin on the lake just a quarter mile or so west of town over 30 years ago. Since that time, he’s turned his cabin into a permanent home with several additions and modifications..several of them made after suffering a series of personal losses. It was during those times, I think, Steve found comfort among the positive thinking folks in his adoptive home town. Folks like John and Joy Thompson who, went against the grain and turned an old funeral home into a lovely B&B..then continued buying property on Main Street in hopes of jump starting businesses there. Gary and Sherry Johnson who were disappointed that there wasn’t a gymnastics program or facility at the school..so they built one on their farm just outside of town and have been holding matches there ever since. Jason Markkula has always had a love for brewing beer. Folks were skeptical when he bought the old bank building on Main with plans to turn it into a brewery. Construction went on forever but finally, the “Bank Brewery” is up and running turning out craft beers with a wildlife theme. And, for the first time in over 40 years, Hendricks has a movie theater again on Main Street. Thanks to the efforts of Jay Nelson, Gary Johnson and Ron Rybinski..the Red Barn Theater has recently opened showing first run films in this town of less than 1,000.
I think, though, Steve has been closest to the Trooien family….Phil and Roberta..who live just outside of town…but especially Trygve Trooien, Phil’s little brother and Hendrick’s best known and best loved Norwegian Bachelor Farmer.
I’m not sure how or why Norwegian protocol was broken and the operation and ownership of the home dairy farm was handed off to Tryg…the youngest of the boys. I’m guessing it was because the other two realized Tryg was the natural choice. He loved the hard work and never missed a milking. He was a perfectionist and wanted things run right..the old fashioned way. He also had a droll sense of humor and was smart as a whip..both characteristics that Hemmingsen admired and cemented their friendship.
Whenever I made my way up North to Hendricks I always hoped Tryg was around so I could get a dose of his wit and wisdom and hear that genuine Norskie accent that he no doubt acquired from years of living in that big house first with his parents..then his mom..then alone.
I also loved the site of a man in his bib over(hauls). It was all my dad and uncles ever wore except on Sundays. Tryg didn’t necessarily make that distinction..often slipping a sport coat over a clean pair on the Sabbath. They were his trademark.
As a packrat with plenty of room in his 18-room farm house, Tryg didn’t even realize he had a unique collection until about 15 years ago. He had saved overalls his mother had patched as well as brands he had tried to see if they were better than his favorite brand, which was Lee. A friend suggested he put on a fashion show, and the 1,000-acre rancher and dairy farmer added fashion shows to his resume.
He took his show on the road, often pairing up with Used Cotton, a country/bluegrass band out of Brookings.
“We maintain a ‘have fun’ atmosphere throughout the show, which takes about 1 1/2 hours,” Trooien told Farm Show magazine. It takes that long to show 80 different overalls from a collection of 200+ (42 brands including some that have been “gently worn”), modeled by two of Trooien’s models and 15 local high school and college age girls. Trooien provides the loudspeaker system, background music and the commentary, including information off the tags he has saved from the overalls when they were new. For example, Finck’s claimed that their overalls “wear like a pig’s nose”.
It was..in part..a quest to find additions to Tryg’s over(haul) collection that led to some infamous road trips around the Midwest with Tryg, his brother, Phil.. Steve Hemmingsen and Brookings radio personality, Grant Peterson. They traveled thousands of miles..a couple hundred at a time..visiting historic places, farm operations, unique businesses and of course eating joints with lots of laughing to work up an appetite.
But the good times they are a fleeting. A couple years ago, Grant suffered a debilitating stroke that cut short his radio career. And then after he was seen driving his pickup around Hendricks on Saturday, Trygve Trooien returned to the only home he’d ever known; the family farm South of Astoria. He sat down in his recliner. That’s where the hired man found him Easter morning. Tryg’s tired heart had apparently given out.
I’d asked Steve if he’d care to write something about his old friend here and he thought Tryg and the family would like it if I would. But then, he did offer the following beautiful remembrance.
I wonder what Tryg…who always had to have brother Phil do his computer work and only had an old-fashioned dial phone…would think had he known anybody in the world can Google up Trygve Trooien, once the smallest dairy farmer in the county, then the biggest dairy farmer in the county and then the only dairy farmer in the county, all with no changes on his part.
I don’t think most people appreciated the emotions involved when the daily dairy grind just became too much for his heart and he had to ring down the curtain on 109 years of continuous dairying in his barn on the home place south of Astoria.
I once told him, during one of our many runs to Sioux Falls or Watertown, that I suspected that was a pretty emotional moment. He admitted it was. Right up until his death, he was anticipating this spring’s imminent calf crop from the small stock herd he kept, mostly for old time’s sake, I think. He was also looking forward to spring planting on his remaining acres (he had “farmed out” a good deal of it) with his collection of old Farmalls. Not many cabs around his place. Just calves and cats, though a lot of them scattered with the dairy herd.
On another of our “doctoring” trips he was reminiscing about a long-ago bachelor party that got pretty wild. Tryg rounded out the account with: “I know for a fact that the party resulted in one marriage and….at least two divorces.”
Tryg was married to farming, particularly the home place. I asked him if he had ever considered any other occupation. Tryg…who was a paymaster in Vietnam which involved flying the pay envelopes to wherever the troops were…to my surprise said he kind of liked the military and could have done that for a while. But his dad couldn’t handle the farm anymore, so it was back to Oak Lake. In reflecting on his answer, I got to thinking “this makes sense.” Tryg likes things in rows, nice and orderly. The military might have suited him.
He liked to plant his corn himself. His machinery is mostly neatly lined up next to the township road that serves as his driveway, where he would watch herds; I mean multiple herds of 20 or 30 deer, grazing on his bale stacks, up on top of the stacks like the Hartford logo. . Most farmers get all worked up over that. It didn’t seem to bother Trygve. He said his cows ate it even though the deer marked their territory first.