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Fargo little coin show is a big one

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Having so thoroughly enjoyed my 2010 attendance at the Red River Valley Coin Club’s 50th anniversary coin show, I decided to put my Town Car on the road to Fargo on the last Friday of January again this year. With the weather gods once again shining upon me, I didn’t regret the decision in the least, with the drives both going and returning again coming off under pleasant conditions. The Fargo show, one might say, is a truly big little show, by far the biggest annual Upper Midwest event.

Hitting the road from home at about 7 a.m., with dawn just breaking on the horizon and the thermometer reading 20-plus, I headed north to Wausau, there picking up Highway 29 west to its junction with I-94 a few miles east of Menomonee at 9:45 a.m., a drive of 170 miles. Crossing the Mississippi north of Minneapolis at 11 a.m., I continued tracking northwesterly on I-94 to Alexandria where I pulled off for gas and lunch at a Doolittle’s Woodfire Grill at about 12:45 p.m., having logged 377 miles.

The day had been overcast until about 50 miles out of Fargo, when the sun broke out on the back side. Unexpectedly warm mid-30s temperatures greeted my arrival in Fargo at about 3:30 p.m. I pulled up to the Doublewood Inn.

After registering and settling into my room, I decided to spend the balance of the afternoon and early evening exploring a couple area attractions. The first was the Fargo Air Museum, where I spent an hour or so viewing and absorbing the histories of several flyable WWII era aircraft on display. Among the interesting fixed exhibits presented at the museum was one dedicated to the pioneering weather altering cloud seeding efforts conducted by aviator Maurice Birkholz (1924-2001) in the early post-WWII era.

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The second visit  was to the Roger Maris Museum, located in the West Acres Mall, a free museum displaying a wide range of awards and recognitions bestowed upon this hometown hero for his athletic prowess as a high school student, in Legion baseball and through his professional baseball career in the minors and majors (1953-1968). It includes a video room showing footage of his accomplishments, according viewers the opportunity to sit on actual Yankee Stadium seats from Maris’ playing era.

Worked in between these two visits was a 6 o’clock stop at a Red Lobster for a seafood dinner and then jumping off at a nearby Culver’s for a turtle sundae dessert. It was about 8 o’clock when I returned to the hotel to call it a day.

When I awoke Saturday morning, with the temperature having dropped into the low teens and a biting wind out of the northwest blowing light flurries, I opted for a constitutional only about a half hour in duration. At 7 o’clock I was the first breakfast customer at the Dakota Grill, just off the hotel lobby, and it was about 8 a.m. when I arrived at the conference hall where the nearly 50-table, 35-dealer show was just getting under way for dealers.

Among the dealers with whom I exchanged greetings early on were Terry Hess and his son Jason from Tennesseee,  John Jackson and Don McCulloch from Iowa, and Greg Allen and Don Bina from Minnesota, both of whom are law practitioners in their other lives. Then there were, among others, Glen Jorde, Micky Shipley, Larry Berg and Scott Lindquist from North Dakota. During the course of the day I also enjoyed crossing paths with Kent Froseth, who had traveled out from the Twin Cities to scour the floor for purchases, and one time associate John Kallman, who had driven over from St. Cloud in pursuit of his interest in casino chips. An interesting mix.

During the course of the day I also enjoyed extended visits with actively involved members of the Red River Valley Coin Club, including Arnold Heck, Herbert Heinle and Lloyd Knight, who were holding down the registration area, and exhibitor Steve Schroeder, with whom I ended up conducting a Minnesota National bank note trade. Then there were show organizer Bob Hanna, “unofficial” historian and long-time exhibit area organizer Leonard Otterson, club secretary Charles Peterson and treasurer Harvey Schneider.

While visiting with Otterson and Knight, who have been sharing responsibilities for the exhibit area in recent years, Knight having been tabbed as Otterson’s successor, I was pleased to witness the club’s receipt of an addition to its archive, an attendance ribbon from its first show. Appropriately imprinted with the date Sept. 8-9, 1962, and the F-M Hotel venue in Moorhead, it also carried the following imprint proclaiming the door prize give-away for the event as well; “I Registered for $20.00 Gold Coin.”

With the show opening to the public at 9 a.m., the room quickly filled with local collectors, which in this case included many who had driven in from 100 miles or more out on the prairie, engaged in enthusiastic pursuit of their interests. With a great crowd in excess of 400 passing through the doors during the course of the day, the room broadcast a vibrant atmosphere through to late afternoon, with doors closing at 5:30 p.m.

On Sunday morning it was again around 5:30 a.m. when I headed out for another walking regimen along Fiechtner Avenue, one that I cut short at about 15 minutes. With the temperature having slipped below zero and a brutal northwest wind blowing, cutting it short in favor of a few laps of the hallways at the Doublewood seemed a sensible option. Returning to my room at about 6, after I’d showered, dressed and packed for the day, I headed down to the Walnut Room where a breakfast buffet was available for dealers and show workers.

Sharing a breakfast table with a Minnesota contingent of about a half dozen dealers, I enjoyed listening in on their reminisces of show attendance and shop visit experiences around the Upper Midwest over the years. This event also provided me with the opportunity to surprise Hanna, hailing from Fargo’s sister city of Moorehead across the Red River in Minnesota, with the presentation of an ANA Presidential Award in recognition of his ongoing grass roots dedication to maintaining a vibrant hobby community in this corner of the Upper Midwest.

It was about a 7:45 a.m. when I put the Town Car on a southeasterly tack for home. My only stop of the day was at Hudson, after crossing over the St. Croix river into Wisconsin at about 12:15 p.m., where I stopped about an hour for a gas fill and lunch at a Perkins. From there it was a drive of a shade under 220 miles to home, arriving there at about 4:30 p.m., having logged 485 miles for the day, with the temperature having risen to 25 degrees. That left me with time to take Snickers for a pleasant evening walk before darkness descended.

I returned home with no regrets for having subjected myself to a nearly 1,000-mile drive over two days just to attend the 51st anniversary Fargo show. This big little show has long been the established Upper Midwest coin collectors focal point event. The bourse features diverse collecting opportunities, the venue is comfortable and inviting, and the hosts are welcoming and appreciative of the participation gathered from both the attendee and dealer perspectives.

My Fargo outing was preceded by a drive down to the Chicago area the previous week to attend the January host committee meeting for this year’s 120th anniversary ANA convention, where I was joined by ANA executive director Larry Shepherd, senior administrative manager Kim Kiick and events manager Rhonda Scurek. This working session, with about a dozen of his task chairs in attendance around the table, was conducted by Robert Leonard in his role as the Chicago Coin Club local host committee general chairman.

With the meeting set for Wednesday evening, my travels from home got under way at about 8 a.m., initially by way of Appleton to work in a service appointment for the Town Car. It was nearly 11 when I got back on the road headed south, as the servicing involved a bit more than a routine oil change. Reaching Germantown on the outskirts of Milwaukee at about 12:30 p.m., I pulled off there at a Cracker Barrel for a bowl of pinto beans and chicken pot pie lunch. Back on the road about an hour later, it was right on 3 o’clock when I pulled up at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare.

Prior to adjourning to the evening’s planning meeting in the nearby Midway Room of the Hyatt, I joined most of the meeting attendees in gathering at the Red Bar lobby lounge area for a Dutch treat feed. The working session stretched over two hours, from around 7 to 9 p.m., with topics of discussion being wide ranging, from treatment of the convention floor, to touring and dining opportunities for attendees, along with special exhibits and educational programming. Following the breakup of the meeting Larry and I adjourned to my room, where we spent an hour or so discussing some other ANA activities and involvements.

On Thursday morning at 8 o’clock I joined Larry, Kim and Rhonda for breakfast with a couple Hyatt convention services staff members. At 9 a.m. we met up with a couple representatives of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center for a tour of the exhibit hall and meeting space that will be used for the convention in August. At noon we were joined by the general manager of the convention center, who treated us to lunch at the nearby Carlucci Italian restaurant.

Shortly after 2 p.m., when the ANA staff from Colorado Springs headed off for additional afternoon meetings to work out convention arrangements, I hit the road for home. With smooth sailing all the way, I pulled into my garage at about 5:45 p.m., having driven the 210 miles in roughly three and a half hours. Settling into my recliner, reflecting on the interaction over the previous 24 hours, I found myself ruminating in content anticipation that the combined efforts of the host committee and the headquarters staff is going to result in this year’s Chicago ANA being a truly great event – the best ANA convention ever!

Three Sunday’s after returning from Fargo’s big little show I put the Town Car on the road to another very similar event, this one a good bit closer to home, my destination being Oshkosh to attend another northern climes winter show. While stormy weather has never deterred me from attendance at this event, typically a 50-table, 35-dealer show, it is not infrequently that the onset of a winter storm has made the drive interesting to say the least. This year did not prove to be an exception.

When I picked Randy Thern up in Waupaca to ride shotgun for the drive down to Oshkosh, it was about 8 o’clock on a beautiful, calm and clear winter morning, but with an ominous forecast for the day. Arriving at the downtown convention center within the hour, all of the participating dealers were in place and ready for business. The first to greet us, on the right as we entered the bourse, was Jeff Reichenberger who handles attendee registration. Occupying the table on the left was Randy Miller and his wife, Sue Ellen, of Chief Coin, who has been producing the event in this time slot for the past 28 years.

The show opened to the public at 9 a.m. with attendees quickly filled the aisles;  lively table activity predominatd throughout the hall. While most of the participating dealers were drawn from around the state, there were singular out-of-state representations as well, from Michigan’s upper peninsula and Minnesota. I enjoyed spending about two hours passing conversational snippets with the dealers and attendees alike, managing to make a purchase or two along the way.

As has been the case for the past several years, a special educational exhibit was mounted by Oshkosh token collecting specialist Larry Spanbauer. This year he featured a presentation of historical artifacts preserved from his service on the U.S. Mint’s 1976 Annual Assay Commission. That was the last year it convened as a  public body, at the time having enjoyed the oldest lineage of any federal commission, meeting annually since 1793, but eliminated the following year at the beginning of Jimmy Carter’s presidential term in the name of governmental fiscal efficiency.

My primary objective of the day was attendance at the winter board meeting of the Numismatists of Wisconsin, held annually at this event in recent years, which this year was also serving as the organization’s 51st annual gathering. By the time the meeting got underway, with president Thad Streeter from Wausau being one of only eight board members in attendance – that’s only about half the normal number, but it met the quorum minimum of seven – the onset of a nasty winder storm was well underway outside, the forecasting of which had inhibited the others from venturing forth.

With the meeting breaking up at about 12:30 p.m., shortly thereafter Randy and I took leave of the show, with many of the dealers preparing to do as well, as the solid attendance of early morning having dissipated.

The snow storm was still raging, having already deposited 6 inches or so along the way, making driving condition a bit treacherous all the way home. With the drive taking roughly twice as long as the morning’s had been – traffic was moving along largely under 40 mph at the top end – it was 3:30 by the time we arrived back in Waupaca. Conditions worsened as late afternoon became evening; by morning I found myself snowed in until the county grader came along and plowed the road past our house around noontime.

Potentially adverse weather conditions notwithstanding, it’s always an exhilarating experience to attend relaxing, big little shows like Oshkosh and Fargo, regardless of the season.

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