Finding Local Color in Harvey, North Dakota

We were whizzing down the highway, bound for Minot, North Dakota. The baby had just woke up from his nap when I saw a sign promoting a train engine in Harvey, ND. Eli loves trains, so I hit my blinker and slowed down so we could stretch our legs.

“Do you always pull over when you see signs?” my mom asked, and not unkindly. Most of our recent drives together had been during the long stretch between my parents’ house and my college dorm in Bloomington, Illinois. These were not sightseeing trips — these were push through, wait to pee, making record time kind of trips.


But this trip was something different entirely. With a restless toddler in the car, we were taking it slow by necessity and by design.

Going through Bismarck would have been slightly faster, but instead we were taking the route that my mom remembered driving with her parents and four siblings in the 50s and 60s when they went to visit her dad’s family near Minot, all squished together in the family car. We were retracing their journey from West Fargo to Jamestown, through Carrington and angling northwest on Highway 52.

My grandpa died when my mom was still in high school and we’d already talked about him and his family more in a few hours than we had in years. My mom told me stories that brought my relatives’ hazy faces into focus.

We ambled slowly through North Dakota, stopping for lunch and exploring the Frontier Village in Jamesotown, where my mom was happy to discover that Eli shared her passion for the World’s Largest Buffalo monument. So far so good.

Eli and his engine

So did I always stop?

“Not always,” I replied, navigating the turn into town. “But what if there’s something really cool in Harvey and then I kick myself because I missed it? I might never get back to Harvey.”

My mom raised an eyebrow and nodded gamely. “Okay,” she replied. “What are we looking for?”

“We’ll know it when we see it.” And we did.

The engine itself was interesting enough. Eli patted it admiringly and then tromped off to stick his un-mittened hands into the snow and splash in the puddles.

And, as often happens with random road trip detours, one thing let to another and we discovered something even better.

The walls of the buildings in the tiny town of Harvey are dotted with colorful murals, which we later found out were done by the artist Chris Wakefield.


Public art always makes me happy and this unexpected explosion of color got us both talking. We drove around for a few minutes (Harvey isn’t very big), pointing out new pieces and taking photos.

When I spotted a storefront with colorful windows, a patio table out front and a bright windsock whipping in the prairie breeze, I knew we’d find answers there. It turned out to be Grain Bin Coffee, a tiny little coffee joint so delightfully photogenic that it will get its own post here shortly.


Over hot cocoa and smoothies (insomnia and coffee after 2:00 p.m. don’t mix and Grain Bin Coffee doesn’t do decaf) the owner Jennifer told us that the mural artist was her husband and that he worked from a studio right next door. They were fairly recent transplants to the city, attracted to the prairie by a church that they converted into a home and later flipped to buy their dream house.

I think it’s great that Chris and Jennifer have found a way to think outside the box and make their dreams a reality in this little North Dakota town. And I have no doubt that their unique contributions to the city are giving lots of artistic souls some much-needed reassurance every time they drive through town or stop in for coffee.


“See?” I said as we settled back into the car after strapping the baby into his car seat. “Aren’t you glad we stopped?”

“Yeah,” my mom replied. “Who knew all that would be there?”



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My jaunts across the state are supported in part by a grant from the fabulous people at North Dakota Tourism.

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