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Field of daydreams


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This morning, while I was bent over in my garden pulling weeds, the phone rang. I finished dead-heading the petunias and went indoors to listen to the message on voice mail.

It was a woman with ideas. She didn't leave her name. She must have noticed that periodically, in this column, I express concern for the financial future of the dwindling town of Harlem. She had answers. I liked her suggestions. She thinks like me.

Thank you, whoever you are. I have taken your ideas and run with them.

In fact, I talked with my business partner about bringing you on board.

She runs the coast office, and I head the inland office. So far, all our business is in our heads. You, too, could have a head office — the field office.

Like you, I can picture an outlet mall nestled on the prairie, built with a railroad theme-parky style. What if we move the train station from Havre to Harlem where it always should have been in the first place. We'll remodel it to be the mall entrance. We have lots of room on the sidings in Harlem for the historic steam locomotive.

I suggest Cabellas, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean and Big R for the anchor stores.

We will include such home-grown businesses as Herberger's, the Harlem Clothing Company, Leon's Pawn Shop and Ken's Guns. The usual Montana compliment of bars and casinos will circle the perimeter of the mall, all designed to resemble an old-timey railroad town.

Neither mall sprawl nor parking should present a problem. In Harlem a business can expand in any direction, er, except for the flood plain, which might be a problem.

But, no problem is insurmountable, right.

We'll build extra runways at Harlem International Airport to accommodate commercial jet traffic.

With the new terminal and control tower, our airport will rival Denver's.

Amtrak will run four trains a day, hook on more cars and beef up its ad campaign. North Central Montana Transit will acquire a fleet of posh tour buses.

And, as you suggested, my unknown friend, nobody could resist an outlet mall built around an indoor pool and waterslide. The retractable roof will allow our customers to recline poolside under the summer sun. We will top the high rise hotel with a penthouse suite and an observation deck with a revolving restaurant.

What do you think? The restaurant, called The Dining Car, will attract the finest chefs in the entire region. Every Friday night they will feature the pitchfork steak fondue special, all you can eat.

Nashville's finest will flock to the Opry House. Who knows, we might grow to rival Branson, Mo., or even Las Vegas. Let's mix Montana talent right in with the big stars. I wonder if the Singing Sons of Beaches would be willing to drive up from Ringling to headline the grand opening?

We'll call the indoor sports complex The Round House. My incognito friend, you suggested that we "build it and they will come." Shoeless Joe might even show up and hit one out of the park. We'll have everything — baseball, football, basketball, hockey and curling. Year-round rodeo.

Monster trucks. Mud wrestling. You name it.

I agree with you that folks would drive hundreds of miles for a mall with a waterslide — from Spokane, Phoenix, Saskatoon and Fargo. Think big, I say.

Before your timely phone call today ignited our imaginations, we in Harlem would have gone begging for a 12-unit motel and a full-time restaurant.

And a pawn shop.


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