A Tale of Two Landmarks

Two landmarks in small town North Dakota signify the transition from past energy sources to the future.
By Susanne Retka Schill | September 08, 2008
As I take over the Taking Stalk blog duties from Tom Bryan, I felt I should reintroduce myself. Although I've been with Ethanol Producer Magazine since May 2004, I haven't had a regular writing role for more than a year as I've been behind the scenes editing. There's no better way to do that than by starting with my hometown.

Casselton, N.D., is a town of about 2,000 people 20 miles west of Fargo, which is North Dakota's most populous city and well known for the movie of the same name. Despite the fact none of the movie was filmed in Fargo, and only a handful of people here still drive tan Cutlass Sierras, it's often the first reference point for people outside the area.

However, Casselton's biggest claim to fame is its role as home to four former North Dakota governors. It's also home to (drumroll please…) the world's largest-known oil can pile, cleverly named The Oil Can Pile (for more—albeit somewhat outdated—information, including pictures, visit http://www.realnd.com/casseltoncanpileindex.htm). The three-story pyramid of spent oil cans held together by chicken wire was constructed on a highway service station's property in the 1930s. Thankfully, the station's owner recognized North Dakota's natural deficiency in oil can piles and developed the landmark that has withstood a tornado and once held the distinction of being the state's worst tourist attraction.

The can pile's sentimental value was evident this summer when the business that owns the property on which the pile stood decided, with the urging of the U.S. EPA, to remove the pile. Rather than see it dismantled, a group of citizens banded together to move the landmark to another site where it sits in preparation for its next—and as of yet, undecided—resting place.

Another area group of citizens banded together for another project in Casselton. However, this time the objective had more to do with replacing oil. Tharaldson Ethanol LLC, a 100 MMgy ethanol plant, is being built just outside of Casselton and despite three months until its anticipated start-up, it's already the largest landmark in the area. Rising high over nearby corn fields that will one day supply the facility, the plant has been largely welcomed by the community.

The groundbreaking ceremony for Tharaldson Ethanol LLC was held in August 2007. Attended by various local and state dignitaries, it was obvious how much the facility meant to the surrounding community, area farmers and the state. As start-up draws near, the excitement remains despite wildly fluctuating corn prices and the threat of lessening political support.

Some may find it ironic that a town with such a distinctive landmark as a pyramid of oil cans would have a shiny new ethanol plant rising nearby. I call it progress.