Historically Speaking: Signs of the past abound at Meyer home
Al Meyer, 84, invites me into his home with a handshake and a smile. We have been acquainted since May when I interviewed him for the West Fargo Historical Center's oral history project.
A dairyman all of his life and a widower twice over since last April, he keeps his townhouse clean and pictures of his family easy to view. He is quick to make an impression with stories of his sons, Kent, a Col. in the Army JAG Corps, who is now stationed in Germany, and David, a biologist and researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), currently helping with the BP oil spill.
"Say, would you like to see my garden out back?" he asks. Alongside his back patio we find tomato and cucumber plants almost six feet tall. "I used to be able to let them grow wide, but now because of space limitations, I have to make them grow tall," he said. This gets him talking of his farming days, so I ask for a tour of his old farmland.
Driving around 13th Avenue in West Fargo, the past is not easy to find. The Meyer farmhouse was sold and replaced with a new housing development about ten years ago, and the Meyer fields now hold banks, restaurants and houses. The water tower marks where Al would watch his cows set to pasture. The Meyers owned Guernsey cows, known for high butterfat content in their milk that produces more butter, cheese, and milk powder than other breeds. Today, however, Meyer Drive and Meyer Boulevard seem to be the few apparent signs of the family history left in the area.
Al was in Japan in 1946 when he received word that his father was gravely ill. Not long after that he found himself running the family farm.
Dairying was his job, but Al found fame through his show cows. As a teen, he had gained a reputation for his show cows by traveling around the country by boxcar with them. In 1951, Sally, one of Al's Guernsey cows, held the world record in butter fat production, and she made Al a local celebrity. He appeared with Sally in newspaper ads for Cass County Creamery equipment, although Al doesn't remember getting much money for it. As the outlook for dairy farmers became bleak, Al used his experience and fame with show cows to land him a job as an assessor with the American Jersey Cattle Association.
He sold his dairy herd in 1961. As an assessor, Al helped dairymen pick and raise their cattle. He traveled all over the U.S. and South America for his job while his brother Bob farmed the family land, through to the 1980s, until they had to sell off the last of it to the city.
"Whenever a road was paved along my property I had to pay for it. I didn't need it, but I still had to pay for it," Al remembers, "they either condemned my land or caused the property value to go up so much that I couldn't pay it and had to sell."
As my tour ends, Al apologizes. "These days I'm only used to taking the route out to Maple River Golf Course - sometimes I just go that way automatically," he says.
He plays at least ten holes of golf every weekday morning, but most days he plays 20 holes.
As we park in his garage, I see shelves on all sides that are filled with pictures, plaques, trinkets, and toys, all full of dust.
"It's mostly just sentimental junk out here," he says as we get out of his suburban.
I draw attention to a tag board by his workbench filled with pictures of his son Larry. Al pauses.
"Larry contracted encephalitis when he was a little boy and had trouble developing," he says.
His only words about Larry during the Historical Center interview were that Larry had a hard life. These pictures, however, show a smiling Larry in his garden, holding his nieces and nephews, and standing with a big grin beside the giant buffalo statue in Jamestown, N.D.
Along the shelves are trophies for best cattle, many more pictures of his family, and a golden plaque commemorating Al for 33 years of service with the American Jersey Cattle Association. There's even a framed ad of him and his world record Guernsey cow, Sally.
"I've had a good life," Al says, "I suppose I could complain if I really felt like it, but, no, I can't. I've been lucky and I've been blessed."
(Sam Beaudoin is a contributing writer to the West Fargo Pioneer/News who will be sharing insight of a historical nature, based on citizens and events. He also conducts oral history interviews for the West Fargo Historical Center located in the West Fargo Public Library. He has a B.A. in History from Minnesota State University Moorhead.)