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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published April 12 2014

Halgrimson: Columnist remembers gatehouse that now sits at WF’s Bonanzaville

The definition of gatehouse is a small building near a gate at the entrance to a park or large house.

But not to me.

The gatehouse of my memory sat across Broadway east of the Great Northern Railway depot, just north of the Empire Tavern. It was a 6-foot-square building on stilts with a 22-step stairway going up the side. It was dismantled in spring 1977 to make way for automated equipment that sits in a large metal box in about the same place.

According to a Forum story, the last gateman was William O’Marro, who after 40 years on the railroad, got the job after being injured in an accident. His father had the same job for the same reason.

I remember waiting for a train to pass and waving at the gateman in his tower. He’d always wave back, something the metal box is unfortunately unable to do.

I have always loved the sounds of trains and would not want to live where I can’t hear them.

I have been fascinated by trains since my childhood. In the neighborhood of my youth, the Hughes family lived at 1109 5th St. N. Their daughter Helen was a friend. Helen’s father worked for the railroad and had a model train setup in the basement of their home. And I loved watching the trains chug along through the little town Mr. Hughes had built.

When the old gatehouse came down, it was taken to Bonanzaville USA in West Fargo. I went out to look at it recently and it sits on the ground next to a railway depot that was moved from Kathryn, N.D.

I was thrilled to learn from model railroader Duane Durr that the Spud Valley Railroad Club maintains a model railroad exhibit in the old depot. Bonanzaville curator Andrew Nielsen let me have a look at the setup although the tiny trains weren’t running.

But I know where I’ll be May 1 when Bonanzaville opens for the season. And I will be a regular visitor this summer.

Some of the scenery that populates the model train layout replicates places in early day Fargo and Moorhead. It is truly a sight to behold.

Now I won’t have to go to Bandana Square in St. Paul to satisfy my love of model trains.

Sources: Institute for Regional Studies, Duane Durr, Andrew Nielsen