Listen to the Weekly Radio Readings by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member
Recorded April 2021
April 4, 2021: This is Sheila Winstead speaking on behalf of the Roseau County Historical Society.
When my oldest son was graduating from high school, he applied for some scholarships for college and one of them was a Vernon Pick scholarship. We didn’t know anything about who Vernon Pick was at the time, but recently I was looking at some newspapers at the Roseau County Museum and found an article about Mr. Pick in a 1953 newspaper. It was a really interesting story about how he came to be a multimillionaire with a uranium mine. I looked for a family file and found a lot of details about Vernon Pick in his file.
A good description of his life was there in a “Rambling with Rose” column from a Warroad paper. It tells about him as a teenager becoming tired of working on the mink ranches and taking off on his own as a teenager to look for satisfaction in his own accomplishments.
Another article, this one by Warroad author and professional fisherman Alvin Johnston, tells his memories of the Pick brothers. He describes Vernon as having a knowledge of electricity as a teenager beyond anything taught at the college level. After he quit school and left Warroad, he first worked for General Electric but soon left to make radios for another firm. He served three years in the Marines and became an expert shot with the rifle. After returning to civilian life, he won many trophies as a marksman.
Alvin tells that he and Vernon’s brother John spent a few days as Vernon’s guests in 1948 at Royalton, Minnesota, where Vernon worked for years to build a communal-type community with a capitalistic system of free enterprise. He had even built a replica of Boulder Dam to supply his own power from Two Rivers which provided on-site power for their community.
Alvin describes Vernon as an intellectual, surrounding himself with technical books recommended by professors from the University of Minnesota. He had become friends of Sinclair Lewis and Dr. Richard Scammon, dean of medical sciences at the U of MN while attending courses there. He and Dr. Scammon became life-long friends.
Vernon had many interests. One of them was airplanes. He became a commercial pilot and ferried bombers…listen for the rest of the story.
April 11, 2021: Last week I told you about Vernon Pick, a Warroad native, who became a multi-millionaire by mining uranium. Vernon had left Warroad as a teenager with ambition and curiosity, and worked at electronic endeavors before his own business in the Royalton area burned up. He received an insurance settlement and used it to finance his next project of finding uranium to mine. The country was just over WWII and the Korean War was looming, and there was a need for a fusion element.
The Reader’s Digest carried an article in 1957 or 1958 describing the hardships suffered by Pick during that time. Another article from an unidentified publication was also included in the Vernon Pick family file at the Roseau County Museum. It tells in great detail just how precarious his time was leading up to his discovery of uranium between the date his mill near Royalton, Minnesota, burned down in 1951 and the down payment was made on the sale of his mine in 1954. I’ll share some of the amazing details from that article.
His self-sustaining business in a rebuilt old abandoned flour mill at Two Rivers, near Royalton, had become successful doing a substantial mail-order trade in rewound motors and auto generators. On another floor was a woodworking shop turning out maple and birch furniture for sale, and his daughter Virginia ran a job-printing plant in another sector. His wife Ruth canned fruit and vegetables from the gardens and orchards. Vernon employed half a dozen nearby farm boys as helpers, and he was making a good living and had leisure time that gave him time to read. Then the fire burned down the mill.
The insurance settlement gave them enough to buy some equipment to travel and they heard about the uranium boom when they got to Colorado Springs. Knowing little about mining, he did what he often did, which was learn from books, and took the advice of someone at the Atomic Energy Commission office that Utah would be the place to start. Hanksville, Utah, was a remote enough place in itself, and Mr. Pick spent some time listening to the locals tell about their struggles and picked up a few bits of information to get started. He started making solo forays into the desert, driving as far as a road or trail went, then setting up camp and carrying his equipment in a backpack, looking for the type of rock formations that might lead to uranium ore deposits on the Colorado Plateau.
Vernon learned by trial and error and with the advice of geologists, the practical knowledge he needed. He gradually began to look the part of a prospector, tanned and dirty, but confident that the next time he went out he’d strike it rich. He took many two-week forays, even being followed by mountain lions and bitten by a scorpion …listen for the rest of the story.
April 18, 2021: For two weeks, I’ve been telling you about Vernon Pick, formerly from Warroad, who made his fortune with a uranium mine. For almost two years, Vernon had been searching the mesas of Utah for a uranium deposit, which was in demand for a fusion element in the atomic age following WWII.
In 1952, he was taking one last trip into a series of canyons with the last bit of money he had. His feet were covered with blisters and he was drinking dirty water from the river he was following. He was noticing driftwood and debris on tops of boulders as he went along and knew the cause was flash floods. He didn’t dare sleep in the lower parts of the canyon, knowing he’d never make it up the slopes if he were caught sleeping during a flood. He found a ledge high enough up to protect him while he slept and the night passed without trouble. But in the morning his feet were so sore from the blisters he had developed, that it was hard to get back into his boots.
He also started feeling stomach cramps and diarrhea that day and suspected it could be from the river water he had been drinking. He knew about plenty of things the water was apt to contain that could be hurting him, but he had no other source of water. He tried to create his own filter by making charcoal in a makeshift stove made from flat stones. He slipped his backpack off and sat down exhausted, then noticed a rattlesnake staring at him from a few feet away. He grabbed a piece of driftwood and killed it. Then he built his oven and was pleased to be successful in creating charcoal. He punched holes in one of his canteens, filled it half full of gravel, and the rest of the way with crushed charcoal. He filled it with water and it sprayed out as planned, but dirtier than ever. He tried other combinations before throwing them away in disgust.
During his search for flat stones in the canyon, he had come upon the desiccated carcass of a cow. He had heard of cows straying from a herd and dying from bad water. He slept poorly that night and woke with a rapid heartbeat and vision going in and out of focus. He got going again with an obsession to reach his goal (or die) for his own sake as a human being. He had moved part of his pack to a new camp and had to go back for his Scintillometer. He picked it up and adjusted the dial out of habit so that it would register proper readings as he carried it along.
He realized at once that something was wrong. The needle would not go back to normal. He wondered if the batteries were to blame. He hadn’t wanted to spend the $50 to buy new ones before this final trip. He carried it along limply…listen for the rest of the story.
April 25, 2021: So many families had dairy farms in the old days and relied on cold tanks or wells to keep the cream from spoiling until it could be used. Eventually, many communities created central cooperative creameries where all the neighbors could bring their products. At the Roseau County Museum, in a 1961 Roseau Times-Region, I found this story about the Ross Creamery which had recently closed.
The handwritten record stares up from yellowed pages. It marks the beginning of a history which was recently concluded … marking the end of an era of service unique to Roseau county. “At a meeting held at Ross schoolhouse on the second day of July, 1907 it was agreed upon to organize a cooperative creamery association,” it says matter-of-factly. And thus began the Ross Creamery which recently closed after 53 years of operation.
“Joel G. Winkjer, State Dairy and Food Inspector was present. Articles of Incorporation for the association were agreed upon and signed by sixteen farmers. E. A. Aase was elected President; G. T. Haugen Vice Pres.; Edward Erickson, Secretary; M. C. Braaten, Treasurer. A. J. Gilseth, Ole J. Lien, Ole O. Lee, S. Halvorson, Hans O. Erickson were chosen as the first board of directors to serve until the annual meeting, to be held on the 1st Monday in February, 1908. Motion made and carried that a mass meeting again be held on the 22nd Day of July 1907. Meeting adjourned. Edward Erickson, Secretary.” These were the first official minutes marking the birthdate of the association.
At that second meeting, it was voted to locate the creamery at Ross and to increase the board to seven members. Shares were to be sold, promissory notes taken, and “Motion made and carried that the creamery shall be completed and in running order by March 1st ‘08”, Erickson wrote.
The work and struggle behind those simple words are not visible today but the board never faltered. On September 16, 1907, they met and decided to call for bids on October 5th at Ross. This they did and Erickson’s minutes reveal that “Bendix Vestness offered to build and complete the creamery according to plan No. 9 of the Creamery Package Company for the sum of $1,430. Motion made and seconded that his offer should be accepted.” And thus it was the creamery took its major step toward physical being.
That December the same contractor got the nod to build an icehouse for $100 at the creamery (14x16x10 feet high) and Aslak Listug was given the contract to paint the creamery inside and out for $40.
On December 17 the board accepted the bid of the Creamery Package Company for …listen for the rest of the story.
Thank you to for letting us share the history of our county with your listeners.