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Published January 21 2003

Bob Lind column: Neighbors: Fargo landfill got its start in vet housing

Now, the area is more like the middle of Fargo. But back in the 1940s, it was the town's southwest corner.

It was here, about where Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School now stands, that the Chaney Field barracks stood.

They provided temporary housing for World War II vets. They weren't exactly luxurious, but it kept the former GIs and their families out of the cold … sort of.

And they led, indirectly, to Fargo having a landfill.

After the war, the federal government gave abandoned military barracks to communities to provide returning GIs a place to live until they became established and could buy their own homes. All the community had to do was provide the basics, such as roads, water and sewer.

In early 1946, the Fargo City Commission selected a site for such barracks: Frank Chaney Field, an area between 10th and 11th Avenues south and 16th and 17th streets. It was a municipal park/playground area named in honor of the man who was co-owner of the Chaney-Everhart Candy Co. of Fargo and a longtime member of the Fargo Park Board who died in 1930.

The city commission approved funding for the services needed for the project. Then 17 barracks in Mitchell, S.D., and one in Pierre, S.D., were sawed into sections and moved by truck and rail to Fargo, where Roel Construction Co. reassembled and erected them.

It took some time, because there was a war-caused material shortage. But in November 1946, the first families moved in.

The quarters, operated by the Fargo Housing Authority, were something less in quality than the Waldorf-Astoria. Let Carol Bradley Bursack, Fargo, tell about it; she was 2 when her parents and 5-year-old brother moved in the following year.

Her dad was Clarence "Brad" Bradley. He had suffered a severe head injury during Army maneuvers, was in a coma for weeks, then had to learn to walk and talk again.

The Army then trained him as a sanitarian. He worked for the North Dakota Health Department in Bismarck and then was hired by the city of Fargo. As a veteran, and with no other housing available, he qualified for the Chaney Field housing project.

Newspaper clippings say the project housed 90 families. Carol says that "at age 2, out on my tricycle, it seemed like millions (of units), all blending together in a murky green blob. They still had the look of Army barracks; greenish brown shakes and Army green doorways. The only way I could tell which door was mine was that the people across from us had built a sheltered entry, so their door was different than the rest and pointed to my own.

"We had our own bathroom. I think we had two bedrooms, though I don't remember the interior as well as the exterior, probably because of my fear of not getting back to the right house when I went out to play."

Rent was based on ability to pay. Because Brad had a job, he paid the top rate: $37.50 a month. The lowest rent was $20.

Everyone endured suffocating heat in the summer, frost on the inside walls in the winter and rats running between the walls all year.

Living with the rats, Carol says, was one reason her father later led Fargo away from having merely a dump ground to an organized landfill, which led other city officials to jokingly call the new city landfill "Bradley Park." The landfill idea was so new Brad was even invited to speak in Peru on the subject because he was fluent in Spanish.

In 1948, Brad moved his family from the barracks into the house he had built. "We thought we were in heaven," Carol says. "Soon a third bedroom was built for my brother so we each could have our own room. We left the rats at the barracks."

About 250 families lived at the Chaney Field project over the years until it was disbanded in 1954. The buildings were auctioned off and moved out.

There is no trace of the project now. Other buildings have come up in that area. The city now sprawls much farther south and west.

But the memories of the Chaney Field barracks live on for those who lived in them and who, like Brad Bradley, went on to help make Fargo the city it is today.

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 e-mail rlind@forumcomm.com