Neighbors: North Dakota's smallest town had a population of 4 — until the mayor died

Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist. The Forum

Last summer, Bruce Lorenz, 86, the mayor of Ruso, N.D., died.

A mayor’s death is a loss to any town, but it was especially so for Ruso, as it was the smallest incorporated town in North Dakota, with (before Bruce’s death) a population of four in the summer and two in the winter.

Happily, Lew Boyko, Buffalo, Minn., had been able to visit with Bruce some time earlier. They had much to visit about, because Lew grew up in Ruso, southeast of Minot.

Bruce became the rural mail carrier for Ruso around 1956 and served in that position for 38 years before retiring.

“Bruce and I talked about the good old days,” Lew writes Neighbors, “as he knew all the folks in that part of the county that I did.

“I asked Bruce if he remembered the snowstorm we had in 1949 that came up in a hurry around 4 in the afternoon. He didn’t recall that storm, though, as we had so many in 1949.

“We had a big snowbank between our house and the barn. It covered the fence, standing 4 or 5 feet above it, and it made a good sledding hill for me.

“That storm I asked Bruce about must have been in March or April, and it was a nice, warm, sunny day. I was sledding down that snowbank with no shirt on and I worked up a sweat just getting back to the top.

“My dad had gone to town to get some groceries earlier that afternoon.

“By the time it got dark, a snowstorm was raging; we could not even see the windmill, which was about 35 feet from the house.

“By midnight, my dad had not come home yet,” Lew writes. “We were still up, as my mother was watching for the headlights of Dad’s car from the kitchen window.

“Later that night, there was a pounding on our front door. I ran to open it and there stood this snowman covered in snow with icicles hanging from his face.

“I screamed and ran for my mother. I did not know what this thing was or who it was.

“My mother came and we got the snowman in the house and found out it was my dad.

“We got all the frozen clothes off him, wrapped him in blankets and gave him hot tea to thaw him out.

“He had gotten stuck around 7 that evening a quarter mile north of our farm. He started walking and wound up a mile east of our farm. He ran into a barbwire fence going up a hill. He then knew where he was. He turned around and followed the fenceline back to our farm. It took him from 7 that evening until 1 in the morning, and he was as close to dying in that snowstorm as one can get.

“My dad said he knew he was home, though, as he could hear the windmill wind whistling. He was almost ready to give up as he crawled over the snowbank I had been sledding on. But then he knew he only had 35 or so feet to go to get to the house.”

And today, “My parents are gone,” Lew writes, “and so is Bruce Lorenz. The windmill is gone, too, and the snowbank of course has melted. But I still have memories of the Good Old Days.”

But Lew says that if he ever has the chance, he’d like to buy a lot in his tiny hometown of Ruso.

Archive: Read more of Bob Lind's Neighbors columns

Old sayings

On another matter, a woman’s list of old words and sayings that younger generations don’t use ran here last fall. They included “having a lot of moxie,” “jalopy” and “I’ll see you in the funny papers.”

That column inspired other readers to send in more sayings from yesteryear. And in doing so, it gives Neighbors a chance to find out something about its contributors.

Jay Rice, Maddock, N.D., mentions these old sayings: Got the bull by the horns; back to the wall; chilled to the bone; lumps in my throat; don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Jay adds, by the way, that he is the only one left out of a family of 16.

Curtis Johnson, formerly of Lisbon, N.D., and now of Lakeville, Minn., adds these: Darn betcha; saddle shoes; hike up your britches; I’ll be darned; who’da thunk it; sour apples; ya know.

Curt was a radio/TV guy in the Twin Cities. He says he retired from broadcast news in 1999 and from media relations with Minnesota tourism in 2012. “I was tired,” he says. “Now I’m retired!

“I’ve been fighting cancer (esophageal) for two years,” Curt writes, “but as soon as my oncologist’s son graduates from college, she thinks she will be able to kill off my cancer.

“Or at least,” he quips, “I think it is the cancer she wants to kill.”

Curt says he’s working on completing a book about his childhood in Lisbon, when he was ages 4 to 10. “No guarantee I’ll ever complete it, but the thought keeps my mind going,” he says.

Curt also notes that The Forum has a Lisbonite as a writer: Don Kinzler, who writes a horticultural column. Curt says Don has twin sisters who are a couple of years younger than him.

“Most of my family has passed away, so it’s infrequent for me to get to the Fargo area,” Curt says. But he still hopes to occasionally.

As to old sayings, more of them are coming in. Neighbors hopes to get them into another column eventually.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email