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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press , Published March 11 2012

Ham radio space helps sway couple to buy North Dakota home on ebay

FARGO — James Stiles doesn't hunt, fish, bird watch or yet dig for dinosaur bones — the typical hobbies that draw people to North Dakota. He's moving to the state to increase his stock as a ham radio operator.

The 57-year-old Stiles, retired for five years from a career as a computer whiz with the U.S. Department of Defense, recently bought with his wife Sue a house sight unseen — on the Internet auction site eBay, no less — in the small southeastern North Dakota town of Edgeley.

The town is not named for being on the edge of the world. But Stiles hopes he can hear it from there. Yes, the price was right, the state is safe, the people are friendly, the town has a welcoming website. But perhaps most importantly, there's plenty of room for a 40-year amateur radio operator to become famous.

“Yes, I am a ham radio operator. This really was a factor,” Stiles said in a phone interview from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he's spending the winter.

Stiles said the state is ideal for his hobby because there's less congestion on the radio frequency and the Aurora conditions, or Northern Lights allow for communications over greater distances. In addition, no place is the best place for a ham radio operator, many of whom compete to find people in obscure places.

Lynn Nelson, who represents North Dakota in a national ham radio organization, said there are only 1,500 people with licenses in the state, of which only about 150 are actively riding the radio waves.

James Stiles could become the Babe Ruth baseball card of hams, who collect something similar called a QSL card.

“He will be sought-after as a ham radio operator because of his location,” Nelson said.

His ham radio fame may be pending, but Stiles and his wife are creating a buzz in Edgeley without having set foot in the town of about 565 people in LaMoure County.

Gene Hanson, who used to own an airplane kit factory and motel in town, said he's looking forward to meeting the newest residents after connecting with them on the town's website. Right now he's cutting the grass, changing the locks and keeping an eye on the house.

“I thought maybe he just wanted to come here a couple of weeks a year. It sounds to me he's determined to make this his home,” Hanson said.

Stiles worked for the Defense Department for 25 years. He and Sue, 53, have lived in Washington, D.C.; Okinawa, Japan; Mons, Belgium; West Chester, Pa., and this summer in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Stiles, who had been monitoring retirement property on eBay for a couple of years, said he and Sue plan to travel for a while and wanted to wait before buying a house. He said it was too good to pass up. The house was appraised at $15,000. He paid half that.

The two-bedroom, two-story is generally in “move-in” condition but could use some foundation work, porch repair and a coat of paint, Stiles said. Kim Schmidt, spokeswoman for the state Tourism Department, said it's the first time she's heard of someone buying a North Dakota house on the Internet.

“I always thought when you purchased something on EBay, they had to ship it to you,” she said, laughing.

Stiles said the website, http://www.edgeley.com/, convinced him it was the "sort of town" where he and his wife wanted to live. Joy Powers, who helped to build and maintain the site, said many locals didn't realize how much the town had to offer until they went online. Recruiting new residents is a bonus, she said.

“We are holding our own. I mean we struggle. We don't have a McDonald's and we don't have a Wal-Mart and we never will,” she said. “You have to find your niche here, but it's a great place for families.”

And ham radio operators.


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