Cathy Scheibe sits at a windowside table at Bernbaum's in downtown Fargo and pulls a treasure trove of history out of her tote bag.
It's actually an old green ledger with maroon leather corners. But inside, it chronicles the daily activities from 1929 to 1934 when Scheibe's family - descendants of the historic Probstfield farm family - opened the New Trail Market, the property that would become best-known as Jerry's Bar in north Moorhead.
Earlier this spring, the LaMoure, N.D., woman was fascinated to learn the 88-year-old building at 1500 11th St N., had once again gained new life as the Brothers' Table, a takeout-meal/local foods/catering company run by Riley and Nicholas Aadland.
Now she's anxious to share the many stories behind the property, which she believes was built in the early '30s to serve as a combination open-air produce market and 3.2 beer tavern.
Scheibe's grandfather, Walter Probstfield, would run the market/tavern in its early days before inviting Scheibe's father, Erv Jents, to move to Moorhead and manage the operation. It stayed in the Jents/Probstfield family until 1960, when it was sold to Jerry and Vera Jean Keogh, who opened Jerry's Bar there in 1960. Although it has undergone several name changes since, it's still identified by many locals as Jerry's Bar. But not as many are familiar with the colorful early history of the low-slung building, which once included an illegal slot-machine operation, a tear-gas robbery by two goggle-wearing thieves and a watering hole for a world-famous circus clown.
From the Probstfield diaries
The Probstfield diary-keeping tradition was started by Randolph Michael Probstfield who, along with wife Catherine Goodman, settled on a high point of land on the Minnesota side of the Red River in 1860.
Randolph was an innovative farmer who experimented with many new crops and provided produce to the burgeoning towns of Moorhead and Fargo. He and Catherine would have 11 children, and these subsequent generations would help the farm prosper. A grandson, Raymond Gesell, farmed well into the next half century, omehow making a success of a farm and business during the dust and destitution of the Great Depression.
But it was the pioneering Randolph who first started the diary-keeping tradition, which included weather and crop reports as well as wry observations about the day's events and politics. His journaling habit was passed along to successors like youngest daughter Josie Probstfield, whose approach was more straightforward. In a no-nonsense, left-handed cursive, she reported the weather ("Aug. 6, 1934: "Damn hot. Blistering sun ... Will plant cactus and horned toads next year,"); the day's activities ("Raymond and Milly left for Mpls with load of chickens for show,"), and grocery bills (kerosene, 65 cents, meat and groceries: $2).
During this period, the earliest rendition of a market/tavern arose. A June 30, 1933, entry reports a couple of family members cleaning up the "south lot" to build a market. By July 6, 1933, the industrious crew was already purchasing lumber to build the market. (Scheibe believes they already had an established produce stand, the Old Trail Market, at the farm, which is why the new market was sometimes called "the South Market.")
In fact, the new market/tavern had all sorts of names: the Gesell Tavern (named for Probstfield grandson Raymond, who owned it), the New Trail Market, the South Market and the Trail Tavern.
Scheibe says the family simply called it "the tavern."
No sooner had the sawdust settled when the tavern was granted a license allowing the sale of "non-intoxicating malt liquors," which is what 3.2 beer was considered at the time. Prohibition would be repealed in December of 1933, but the tavern stuck to selling this "near beer" as well as set-ups - soda mixers that allowed bar patrons to bring in their own booze. They even were able to sell on Sundays, Scheibe says.
The New Trail Tavern thrived. "I'm sure the success had to do with the 3.2 beer and the slot machines," Scheibe says.
The slots were almost certainly illegal, she adds, but the tavern was still outside city limits and the county apparently looked the other way, she adds.
But even as the gambling enterprise attracted customers, it also attracted trouble.
The day of the 'Tear Gas Bandits'
It was big-enough news to warrant an enthusiastic headline in The Forum on Oct. 23, 1933: "Tear Gas Bandits Raid Moorhead Beer Tavern."
A Forum reporter breathlessly reported the robbery by "two goggled bandits" which took place in broad daylight - on a Sunday afternoon, no less - when Scheibe's grandfather Walter Probstfield and his daughter, Helen (Scheibe's mom), were at work in the empty tavern.
One of the robbers fired a gas cartridge directly at Walter's head. Believing he had been wounded, Walter and his daughter quickly obliged - their eyes streaming from the gas - when the robbers ordered them into the kitchen.
The bandits - one described as "stout and very short," the other as mustachioed - proceeded to jerk the telephone wires loose. Then each grabbed a slot machine, hurried out to their car and sped away toward Moorhead, successfully eluding police.
No one was sure how much money the machines contained, although the story noted the lawbreakers didn't bother to check the till, which held $30.
Oddly enough, this event warranted little more than a footnote in Aunt Josie's green diary. "Sunday thermometer a.m. 24. Men worked hauling rubbish from fields," she wrote.
And then, in the margin: "2 men held up South Market in eve."
A new start at the New Trail Tavern
In time, Helen Probstfield would cross paths with Erv Jents, a printer and professional musician with Twin Cities roots. Jents had actually lived in Fargo for a year or two as a young man. Back then, he was one of the so-called "Baldwin Twins," who played piano for WDAY Radio, then located in the Black Building.
After his Fargo gig, Jents returned to St. Paul and married a neighborhood girl. But it didn't last: She had stars in her eyes and wanted to make it big in Hollywood.
Jents eventually connected with Helen, who he remembered from his Fargo piano-playing days as "that little girl who had her nose pressed up against the window, watching me."
They were married in 1937 at the United Church of Christ in Moorhead. They initially lived in St. Paul, where Jents worked at the National Battery Company as a printer.
When the U.S. entered the war, Jents worked as an air raid warden, patrolling neighborhoods to make sure everyone was out of sight and no lights were visible. But he really wanted to enlist. Unfortunately, he was classified 4-F. "Why, I don't know," Scheibe says. "He said they told him he had an artistic temperament. Someday I'd like to do a little more investigation on that."
Depressed by the rejection, Jents' spirits were bolstered by a call from his father-in-law, Walter Probstfield, who was running the tavern.
"He said, 'Erv, I'm doing really well right now. I'm busier than I know what to do with at the tavern. I could use some help,'" Scheibe says. "Apparently, the slot machines were making money hand over fist."
And so, with Cathy Scheibe just about to turn 4, the Jents clan moved to a house at 610 4th St. S. in Moorhead in 1944. Jents traded in his printer's apron for a job as tavern manager.
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The Greatest Show on Earth - in Moorhead
By the early 1950s, the slot machines had been replaced by pinball machines. Scheibe was in her tween years and now had a little sister, Virginia ("Gini.") She remembers when the lot kitty-corner from the tavern - the block now occupied by Mattson Field Park - was a landing spot for the famed Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Scheibe recalls the fact her dad was recruited to play calliope in the elaborate circus parade. Hollywood was particularly devoted to big-top themed movies in the '50s, especially after Cecil B. DeMille filmed "The Greatest Show on Earth." The star-studded 1952 film starred Charlton Heston and featured numerous real Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey performers.
Many of those same performers were showcased at the Moorhead circus. Most notable among these was world-famous circus clown Emmett Kelly, best known for his role as Weary Willie, a mournful tramp sporting tattered clothes, unshaven face and bulbous nose. Kelly held a prominent role in the film. He spent time socializing at the tavern and also gave Scheibe's dad his autograph.
Even so, such famous patrons were rare. More common were people who drank too much and stirred up trouble.
In 1959, a patron jumped over the bar and beat up Scheibe's dad so badly that he wound up in the hospital with a serious eye infection.
He rallied for a while, but then fell ill again. Doctors ran tests, but couldn't pinpoint the source of his deteriorating health.
At the time, Cathy was preparing for her wedding to Claire Scheibe. She arranged to have the reverend and her family come to the hospital for the part of the ceremony that involved her dad "giving" her away. Scheibe tears up when she remembers it.
The couple were spending their modest honeymoon at a local hotel when Cathy was awakened by the hotel manager in the middle of the night. Erv Jents had passed away. The same reverend who married them would perform his funeral service.
This marked the end of the Jents/Probstfield affiliation with what became better known as Jerry's Bar.
Today, the Probstfield name lives on in the nearby Probstfield Living History Farm, first envisioned by Scheibe's son Matthew as a fifth-year landscape architecture project 27 years ago. But it also lives on in a series of green diaries, kept to remind today's generations of a time when one could buy a little R&R with a pull on a 10-cent slot machine and beer at 5 cents a glass.
From the archives: Forum business reporters are making use of the newspaper's extensive archives to bring you stories of businesses past. If you have a suggestion, email Forum Business Editor Angie Wieck at firstname.lastname@example.org