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Kyle Potter, Published October 27 2013

Three of a kind: Wahl triplets celebrate 75th birthday

FARGO - "Merry, muscular and mischievous are the Wahl triplets” reads a 1940 Forum article on the infamous brothers from Ashley, then just 2 years old.

Funny how little things change in seven decades.

Claude, Carrold and Collin Wahl celebrated their 75th birthday on Sunday in Fargo with dozens of friends and family members, many who still struggle to tell the triplets apart (the matching orange-brown shirts didn’t help). The triplets – two of whom live in Fargo – took the spotlight at the One Oak Place retirement community for music, jokes and a bit of history behind the unexpected triplets.

There was only supposed to be one new member of the Wahl family on Oct. 14, 1938. After Claude was born, their father, Theodore Wahl, went into town to get a midwife. By the time he returned, a second had arrived – Carrold.

“That’s enough now,” he told his wife, Christine, as the family lore goes.

But Christine didn’t listen, and Collin made three. Together they weighed less than 12 pounds.

The Wahl triplets stretched an already poor farming family thinner. Not expecting triplets, the family had just one crib, one set of clothes, one blanket. When Christine fell ill, the boys were split up and sent to relatives across the state until all four were nursed to health.

Before Sunday, none of the triplets knew their mother had been close to death.

Born in a house with no radio, electricity or even running water, the Wahl triplets made their own fun. They rolled tires down the dirt road together and turned a stretched-out Sears-Roebuck catalog into an accordion. Eventually, the three took turns sharing one bicycle.

“Those were our toys,” Carrold said.

As kids, the Wahl boys picked up music, built up an encyclopedic knowledge about cars and tormented school teachers by trading places with one another.

Only their father could differentiate between his triplets, it seems. In a musical family, Collin was the standout musician, Theodore said in a yellowed newspaper clipping from their teenage years. Claude was soft-natured, and Carrold was a temperamental animal lover.

As they grew up, photos of the triplets and stories about them kept cropping up in local newspapers. Back then, they were the only known triplets in McIntosh County.

Today, their two siblings – Leonard, an older brother, and their younger sister, Marie – struggle to say what sets their brothers apart. Leonard said it’s not work ethic – they each put in 30-plus years with the same companies before retiring. And they each love music, though Collin favors Dean Martin while his two brothers prefer Johnny Cash.

“We’re just alike,” Carrold said.

When their mom and dad would leave the house, the triplets would ask their parents to take their sister with them, Marie said.

“I never saw them argue. Ever,” she said.

And after 75 years, they still look much alike. To this day, friends confuse Carrold for Claude, Collin for Carrold and so on. As their party wrapped up, a family friend apologized for mistaking Carrold for Collin.

“Yeah,” Collin chimed in. “I’m the good one.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502