Monday, June 26, 2017

June 22, 2017 - Wall Drug, South Dakota

Thursday, June 22nd

We were able to get reservations for Jun 27 – July 11 at the Southern Hills RV campground in Custer County, near Hermosa in South Dakota, with full hookups through the July 4th  weekend. Hermosa is a growing community offering a central location to all the area’s surrounding magnificent sites.  Once dubbed the ‘Hub to History and Adventure’, Hermosa  serves as the eastern gateway to the beautiful Black Hills.  It is located a mere 20 miles north east of the Custer State Park entrance and only 15 miles east of the historic Mt. Rushmore.  In thirty minutes or less you could be driving through the Badland Lands National Park or it’s out skirting National Grass Lands, Mt. Rushmore, sitting in the healing waters of the hot springs, gazing at the abundant wildlife in the Black Hills, hunting for fossils or Fairburn agates (the official stone of SD), indulging yourself in the rich history of the Native American Sioux - Lakota Tribe, or enjoying a day of shopping in Keystone, Hill City, or Rapid City. Further out... perhaps the Black Hills, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave Nat'l Pk, and the Spanish Mustang Preserve. One of the apparent attractions of this campground is that since it is away from most other things it should offer a remarkable view of starry night skies. Have you seen the Milky Way recently (other than at the grocery store check out line)? The campground is fairly new, therefore it is not a fancy place. There are no trees and consists of plain sites with nothing around it, except for a double-screen drive-in movie (which operates Fridays and Saturdays) and a Flying J truck stop just down the street.  However, after 8 weeks of living with only electric (and sometimes water), we just needed to look forward to long showers and being able to do laundry freely, for instance. Within 25 miles is Rapid City, which has most of the stores we are used to shopping at, including a Sprint store.

On this map you can see where we shall be camping (red heart) at Southern Hill RV and Campground just north of Hermosa, which is within an hour drive to all the places we want to visit (shown in yellow stars), though these are not all-inclusive, as these are just the ones we have identified so far. We are set up for staying there for 2 weeks, so far; however, we may extend it for longer if there is enough we want to cover in the area. That's the beauty of being retired and full-timing.
Later in the afternoon we went to WALL DRUG... (a must-see in Wall, South Dakota)  C.D. Hustead was a prominent country doctor in Phillips, Nebraska. His son, Ted graduated from the University of Nebraska and became a pharmacist. He had worked as a farm worker and later as at a grain elevator in Sioux Falls, SD and eventually some druggists. Ted married Dorothy and they had a son, Bill. Heeded by his mother's advice that he needed to seek his own independence, upon his father’s death in 1931 having inherited a $3,000 legacy, he decided to look for a drug  store to buy. They looked for one for sale in Nebraska, and in South Dakota. Their only criteria was that it be in a small town with country values AND that it had a Catholic church nearby as being Catholic the closest church in Phillips was about 20 miles away. In Wall, SD the town only drug store was for sale and met both his criteria, so in talking with the town priest, the local doctor and the banker they purchased Wall Drug and moved into a make-shift apartment which they made behind the store by stretching blankets behind the store. They set a five year goal to make it work and if they couldn’t then they would seek another option. For about four and a half years they never made more than about $350/month, so in July of 1936, about 6 months from their goal deadline, with business still not going well, Dorothy came up with the unprecedented idea that all the people traveling across the hot desert prairie were all wanting one thing in common... a cold drink of ice-water to refresh themselves and possibly something to eat. So they made several 18"x36" signs to advertise ‘FREE ice-cold water on Hwy 16A in Wall’ to get the travelers to stop at their drug store. With a local high school boy Ted posted a number of signs along the highway, modeled after the Burma Shave signs, intermittently so that motorists could read them as they drove by… “Get a soda… Get a root beer… Turn next corner… Just as near… To Hwy 16 and 14… FREE Ice Water… Wall Drug.” In his memoires he is quoted to have admitted that he "felt silly putting the signs up", but upon his return to the drug store that day, Dorothy was running around trying to keep up with all the cars that had already shown up. Along with the 'free ice water' the travelers started wanting to buy other things as well… ice cream, candy, food, etc. Fired up by their sudden success, the Husteads began expanding the store, adding wares and attractions, while installing more signs along every highway in South Dakota and neighboring states, all proclaiming how much farther the motorist had to go to reach the promised land of Wall Drug.  It is said that Ted Husted was spending over $300,00-0 a year on billboard advertising, in every train station in Kenya and even on London busses. But it was the American G.I.'s that really spread the word during World War II, when every sign like "Kilroy was here" also had one next to it stating how far it was from that point to Wall Drug in South Dakota. In addition to delighting motorists the signs generated hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. During the period when I-90 was cleaned up of billboards, Wall Drug advertised itself with an 80-foot dinosaur at Exit 110, to let travelers know where to get off for Wall Drug.
Ever since then, Wall Drug has grown from a small town pharmacy into the world's most popular drug store. Today the business takes in over 10 Million dollars a year and receives more than 2 million annual visitors to a town that has always had a population in the 800s. It has grown and has spread into a 75,000+ square foot showplace with an enclosed mall filled with numerous animated displays, separate stores of high quality leather products (boots, belts, six gun holsters, and even saddles), Indian pottery, a rock shop, books, toys, T-shirts and souvenirs, artwork, etc., and several cafes (ice cream parlor, prairie food, and a restaurant (The Ice Water Café) serving 530, plus a picnic area with water feature and several props for photos, like the giant jackalope, the stage coach, the bucking bronco, etc. and much more. There is even a Traveler's Chapel and nearby a convenience store with fuel, (Wall Auto Livery)   Ted died in January 1999 and his son Bill died in October 1999, after a two year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bill’s wife, Marjorie, is still alive and is active in the operation of the drug store, carrying on the legacy, with her son Rick, who is the Chairman. 
Of interest is a relatively small building which at first looked like a jail, but said 'Wall Independent School District 5-51, Home of the Eagles'. We asked a young girl at the Ace Hardware store if that is the Offices for the school, and she said "No. That is the school" So we asked if it s the Elementary or Middle or High School? She said "Yes, on all counts." Then she said  "There are only 18 students in MY class."  We guess that in a town of about 880 people, one small building can take care of ALL the grades and students. And that even includes some of the outlying town's kids, like at Interior, SD.

This is where we have been camped in Arrow RV Campground (above), and also where the only other campground is in Wall (Sleepy Hollow RV) marked in RED, on the left outskirt of town. The rest is the town of Wall which has hardly changed in the last 50+ years.





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