The kids were lost in the land of Mordor so I began listening to Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” in which he set off in 1960 from Maine to rediscover America. It was interesting to hear his observations from the year just before my birth (yes, Bella, they actually had cars when I was born) while observing this fair land for myself some 50 years later. And on its birthday. “Nearly every American hungers to move,” he informed. No kidding, I said to myself, shifting in my seat. We met in Fargo which, as I learned from John, is the halfway point of our land, east to west. Sure enough, we folded Bella’s map and there on the edge sat Far-go. Steinbeck’s Fargo had a population of 40K but three times as many folks had flocked to the state’s largest city in the interim, along with the four white pelicans I spotted circling in the ND sky. “The only good writer is a dead writer. Then he couldn’t surprise anyone any more, couldn’t hurt anyone any more,” Steinbeck reminded me. Hmmm.
At 45-feet, the Casselton Can Pile is actually the world's largest pile of, yes, cans. It was created in 1933 by Max Taubert at what was then a Sinclair gas station. Max, who I like to think of as a frustrated artist stuck pumping gas in the squirrel capital of North Dakota, began tossing oil cans in a pile around an old windmill tower, perhaps as an act of rebellion, perhaps simply because recycling wasn’t an option. Until one day when he finished yet one more oil change and had an epiphany. A glint of sunlight shone straight down from the heavens and Max began to visualize his life’s purpose. Most of the cans, naturally, were Sinclair oil cans whose logo is the dinosaur-formerly-known-as-Brontosaurus, which is now called Apatosaurus or by the more technical name of “long-necks,” thanks to the Land Before Time series.
Fun fact. Maybe you already know this, but the Brontosaurus “mix-up” goes back to 1879, when a paleontologist who shall remain nameless (hint: a male who was also clearly terrible at jigsaw puzzles) stuck the wrong head on an Apatosaurus body and called it a Brontosaurus. Sticking with the less-controversial Land Before Time nomenclature, this “plant eater” was displayed at Yale for almost a century until scientists discovered the mismatch. Woopsy! But instead of politely playing along like the Native Americans at Pompey’s Pillar, they struck Brontosaurus from their books. And when the US Postal Service tried to issue a stamp in 1989 with the Brontosaurus on it? Well, it’s been all downhill ever since for them. Even though the incorrect name still lingers in people’s minds, like my own. But I still struggle to say sea star too.
Anyhoo, in 1932, a lengthy campaign was begun by Sinclair to choose their mascot, the squirrel already being taken. They discarded the more frightening T-Rex and Dino was born out of a desire to express the fact that Sinclair oil came from Pennsylvania crude oil, which was millions of years old, and had been around since the age of the dinosaurs. The company believed that the oldest crude oils make the best refined oils, and they felt that a dinosaur would get this point across to the public. The peaceful plant eater, whatever his name was, appealed to the public and garnered the most interest. According to the internet, like most of this, people thought that the Brontosaurus represented power, endurance, and stamina, which are the qualities that Sinclair Oil Corporation wanted people to associate with their products. But in spite of how much brain energy Sinclair credited us with dedicating to oil, be it crude or refined, the truth is I rarely, if ever, think about it. Although unlike what I dare to say are “most” Americans these days, I did actually know that oil and gas are fossil fuels which means they may or may not include the remains of dinosaurs, a subject of much healthy debate, it seems.