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Archie Ingersoll, Published March 25 2014

Fargo 98-year-old makes backyard snow forts 'pretty much every year'

FARGO - The snow this past winter was too fluffy, not the consistency conducive to the kind of backyard fort Prince Baier has built for decades.

“You couldn’t make very good blocks,” the 98-year-old said. “They’d fall apart all the time.”

Still, a tradition is a tradition. And Baier’s 13-month-old great-granddaughter, Payton, who’d just gotten up on two feet, had never experienced the joys of a snow fort.

So Baier waited out the less-than-ideal snow. When temperatures rose in recent weeks, the snow became more pliable, and he managed to make a shoulder-high fort behind his house near Fargo South High School.

His technique, which involves a sled for hauling snow, is straightforward.

“You just take a shovel, and spade out blocks and carry them over and stack them up,” he said. “When you get as high as you want to go, you start putting them closer together.”

Baier, a World War II veteran with four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, built layers day by day until he had a standalone hut the right size for a little girl to step inside. Payton, who spent much of this unusually cold winter indoors, wasn’t quite prepared for the chilliness of the fort.

“She thought it was pretty cold when she touched it,” said Payton’s mom, Jamie Anderson.

Compared with years past, this year’s fort was smaller and simpler. Payton’s father, Brad Anderson, recalled a fort he built with his grandpa when he was 10 years old that had a fireplace and metal chimney.

“We cooked sausages out there one night,” said Brad Anderson, now a 32-year-old dentist. “We used to be over here every Sunday.”

In the winter of 1996, a photograph of Baier hunching under an archway of snow landed on The Forum’s front page. He had tunneled through a snowdrift near his business, Prince Electric Motors at 1330 Main Ave., to create a path to the parking lot of Mom’s Kitchen.

“I had to have a way to get over there for coffee,” he told a photographer at the time.

On Tuesday, Baier sat at his kitchen table next to a sliding glass door that looked onto his patio, where squirrels, rabbits and birds feed on scattered seeds and corn kernels. Beyond that was the snow fort, which, despite some warm days, stood strong.

With highs in the 50s predicted for the weekend, Baier doesn’t expect the fort will be around much longer. But, of course, there’s next winter.

“Pretty much every year, he’s been out there doing one, and we always go out and play in them,” Brad Anderson said, “pretty much every year of my life.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734