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October 5: Merricourt

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Today’s Dakota Datebook comes to us from listener Dennis Murphy, who used to work for the State Radio Communications System.

In 1962, the North Dakota State Highway Department, as it was known then, installed a radio site west of Merricourt, North Dakota. Merricourt is south of Jamestown, about 20 miles from the South Dakota border. The town’s peak population hit 153 in the 1940s. Now, it’s mostly gone, but not forgotten.

The purpose of the radio facility was to allow the Valley City District office of the highway department to communicate with department vehicles and field offices. Construction of the facility began with building a 300-foot tower; and since it was a potential aviation hazard, the crew temporarily wired the tower’s lights to keep them on.

The site was in the middle of the prairie. No farms around, and nothing nearby but a lone corral. This setup became part of a cattle rustling scheme, with the stolen livestock kept in the isolated corral, and when a load was ready, the tower lights, visible in South Dakota, were turned off and on as a signal to “come and get ‘em.”

The local sheriff figured the thefts were a night operation, and when he noticed the flashing lights, he was also able to “come and get ‘em,” which terminated the cross-border thefts.

Dennis Murphy writes, “I personally climbed the tower several times for various reasons. State governments are notorious for extending the life of equipment.” He tells of one such time when he and another employee were upgrading a generator at the site. It was dark outside with a full moon rising when the coyotes and foxes started singing. “Now that was cool,” says Dennis.

In 1976, State Radio installed a new radio system for law enforcement, connecting the Highway Patrol, Sheriffs, and other related services. Dennis concluded by saying, “With proper maintenance, Merricourt Radio will live on for a long time!”

Submitted by listener Dennis Murphy of Bismarck. Thanks, Dennis.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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