Free Ice Water – Day 111

Free Ice Water

Day 111 – July 20, 2003 – Sunday

We began today with a few sights in Rapid City, South Dakota — sculptures of various Presidents downtown; a fabulous chapel; Storybook Island — a wonderful free park for children; and Dinosaur Park. We also visited the Berlin Wall Memorial Park in Rapid City where they were having a huge religious event of some type.

Rapid City seems to have good signage for its little city tour attractions, but the map in their guidebook was poor. Maybe they can get someone to work on their map, and then that person could go to Deadwood and re-do the gunfight shows. We did, however, manage to find many of the attractions listed in the visitor’s guide.

Storybook Island was a very enjoyable stop. Storybook Island provides a free, safe, educational environment for those young in years, or young at heart, to experience the power of imagination. The park is filled with sets that portray characters from various children’s stories, fables, and nursery rhymes. Humpty Dumpty, Pinocchio and other favorite childhood characters, nursery rhymes, and fairytales come to life in animated and real life scenes. The park has been open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day each year since 1959. We’d like to congratulate the Rotary Clubs of Rapid City and Rushmore for this special place. Madison would love to see Storybook Island. We made a donation, and we hope they will add an Itsy Bitsy Spider attraction, Madison’s favorite.

Stavkirke Chapel was built in Rapid City in 1969. The unique “Stavkirke” is an exact copy of the famous 830 year-old Borgund Church in Norway. The intricate wood carvings, strange dragon heads and ingenious pegged construction make it a place of unusual interest. Situated in a park-like setting surrounded by forest, it is also a place of great beauty. Summer visitors are greeted by hostesses in Norwegian costumes. A “Stabbur” with grass roof was imported from Norway to be a reception center and gift shop. There is an impressive taped narration to help you appreciate this unusual and unique structure.

At Dinosaur Park, seven life-size concrete replicas of monstrous prehistoric reptiles roam the outdoors in a park-like setting. The larger figure is visible from most points in town. Dinosaur Park was built in the early 1930’s.

Downtown Rapid City features bronze statues of many of our nation’s Presidents. The Presidents are life-size, standing as pedestrians on street corners in downtown Rapid City. These are excellent statues.

Helmets are not required on motorcycles in South Dakota. That’s probably why Sturgis has become so big?because all these crazy people who ride motorcycles can ride here helmetless.

Badlands National Park was the next spot on our itinerary after leaving Rapid City. For quite a few miles, we passed through an area that appeared to be absolutely riddled with prairie dog holes.

Badlands National Park has a region known as “The Wall” that separates the upper prairie from the lower prairie. We took a photo of The Wall.

We saw the Buffalo Gap National Grassland — lots of prairie.

We met Ranger Shannon at the official entrance to the Badlands National Park. We then drove through Badlands National Park to Wall, South Dakota (population 818) where we visited the world-famous Wall Drug.

In 1931, Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought the only drugstore in Wall, South Dakota using $3,000 that Ted’s father had left to him when he died. The population of Wall was 326. Most of them were farmers who had been wiped out either by the Depression or drought.

Relatives questioned their choice of Wall, South Dakota. It was in the middle of nowhere. Ted’s father-in-law said: “Wall is just about as Godforsaken as you can get.”

After taking in only $360 the first month, it began to seem that Wall Drug had been a bad choice. Ted and Dorothy struggled, but they decided to give it five years.

The five years were just about up when Dorothy came to Ted one day and said she couldn’t sleep because of the noise from all the cars going by on the nearby highway. But she had come up with an idea that might get some of those people to stop and come into Wall to their drug store. She figured those travelers were hot and thirsty and would love to have a cold drink of water. Her idea was to put up signs on the highway inviting people to come to Wall Drug for “free ice water.”

The next weekend, Ted and a high school boy went out to the highway and put up signs they had made for “free ice water.” The travelers started filling Wall Drug almost immediately. The next summer, the Husteads had to hire eight girls to help out with the crowds.

Wall Drug is now famous worldwide. Wall Drug earned much of its fame from its self-promotion. Billboards advertising the establishment can be seen for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and the neighboring states. In addition, many visitors to Wall Drug have erected signs throughout the world announcing the miles to Wall Drug from famous locations.

Wall Drug has grown into a huge tourist attraction/museum/store. It is like a sprawling shopping mall consisting of a drug store, gift shop, restaurants and various other stores. The store now encompasses an entire city block and the interior occupies 76,000 square feet. Wall Drug can feed, clothe, and entertain the entire family for hours. There are many free attractions to keep folks amused while strolling about the store, including displays of Western art and a cowboy orchestra that plays every 15 minutes. Photo opportunities abound, thanks to the 80-foot-long dinosaur, 6-foot fiberglass jackalope, and Mt. Rushmore replica. There is a 520-seat cafe, and there are shops for everything from postcards to cowboy boots.

Wall Drug is the principal industry in Wall. It employs nearly a third of the town’s residents as well as hundreds of college students from around the country each summer.

Before the 1960’s era of “highway beautification” banned most billboards, Wall Drug touted its free ice water on 3,000 billboards in all 50 states.

When I-90 bypassed Wall in the late 1960’s, the Husteads did not sit back and wait for their business to die. Instead, they erected a 50 ton, 80-foot-long dinosaur next to the freeway reminding travelers that Wall Drug was still open and expected them to stop. It worked.

A younger generation of Husteads still runs Wall Drug. The ice water’s still free, and the coffee still costs a nickel.

What an incredible success story — and what a phenomenon! As many as 20,000 people a day stop and visit Wall Drug in the tiny town of Wall, South Dakota. When we tried to find a parking place, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were cars parked for as far as the eye could see and folks walking a long way to get to the drug store. The store was packed. You have to see it to believe it.

I had some cherry nut ice cream, and Barbara had chocolate nut fudge. We met Carrie at the cash register. She gave us a special Wall Drug – Wall, South Dakota sign. She was very excited to receive her beads.

From Wall, we drove up through South Dakota and into North Dakota across some of the most wide open spaces we have seen on this trip.

We met Angie and Charley at the gas station in Lemmon. They were from Headinger, North Dakota. We would’ve never known about the Petrified Wood Park if we hadn’t seen a sign at the gas station. It said “world’s largest petrified forest 4 blocks.” I guess they learned that from Wall Drug. We went four blocks, and there it was.

The Petrified Wood Park was built from 1930-32 by Lemmon men under the command of Ole S. Quammen. “Thirty to forty otherwise unemployed men received sustenance during this period,” explains a sign at the site. The men scavenged rocks and fossils from the vicinity and hauled them back to Lemmon. The result was a castle, a wishing well, a waterfall, the Lemmon Pioneer Museum, and hundreds of pile sculptures — all made of petrified wood. The park became city property in 1954 when it was donated by the Quammen family. A hundred cone-shaped sculptures are spread around the park at sizes up to 20-feet tall. Some are made from petrified wood and others from round rocks from North Dakota’s Cannonball River. A building referred to as “the Castle” was crafted from a variety of petrified wood and thousands of pounds of petrified dinosaur and mammoth bones. There are two separate museums in the park.

We passed two cars today — #24 and 25.

Boz counted the hay bales that she saw today, and she reported at one point that she had reached 100,000. I think she miscounted, but there were hay bales everywhere.

We took sunset pictures in Thunder Hawk, shortly before we crossed over into North Dakota. We saw two foxes cross the road in North Dakota, and we saw a lot of deer this evening.

We passed the Elgin Historical Society in Elgin, North Dakota. It is nice to see small towns that have museums or historical societies because if a little town doesn?t have a newspaper, if someone isn’t keeping track of what’s going on, the history may be lost.

North Dakota is definitely going to win the award for the most bugs because we drove for less than 1/4 tank of gas after cleaning the windshield, and it was already pretty well covered with bugs.

We reached Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, just before midnight. It was a long day.

I thought about the Husteads and Wall Drug all day. I have such admiration for people who have built successful businesses through ingenuity and hard work. Wall Drug is to me one of the most amazing success stories ever. The Husteads violated the #1 law of real estate — location, location, and location. But, Dorothy Hustead, her husband and son proved to be advertising geniuses. The first signs that Dorothy dreamed up got the attention of motorists, built interest, generated a desire, and moved them to action. Attention, Interest, desire, and Action — that’s what successful advertisers and salespeople try to do with their audiences. Then the idea of giving people signs that they could take with them on their journeys to post in other towns, states, and countries was ingenious.

The lesson for the day comes from the late Ted Hustead of Wall Drug: “Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!”

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
Rapid City South Dakota — Storybook Island — Badlands National Park — Wall Drug — Petrified Wood Park