PICK CITY Pat Galvin of Pick City has entertained family and friends with his stories for years. The former Minot fireman, Hazen barber and North Dakota legislator has found plenty of good material from life over the course of his 84 years.
His stories now are in print with the publication of an autobiography titled "Who Dealt This Mess?"
"I didn't write this book thinking I was going to be some great author," Galvin said. "I thought it would be a really nice keepsake for my family and I didn't know what it would entail, and I never even would have attempted it if I hadn't run into JoAnn. That was almost a stroke of luck."
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Pat Galvin, holding a draft of his new book, and his wife, Carol, are shown at their home in Pick City Aug. 31.
JoAnn Winistorfer, an experienced writer/editor from Pick City, co-authored the book with Galvin.
Told with humor and sincerity, "Who Dealt This Mess?" reveals the cards that life dealt Galvin and how he played them. Copies of the book, which includes about 300 photographs, will be available at Norsk Hstfest next week.
Galvin credited his decision to write the book to a remark about his colorful life by Minot Rep. Matt Klein, who has enjoyed Galvin's stories over the years.
"He's quite an individual," said Klein, chuckling just thinking about him. "He has so many stories that he could just keep you in stitches for hours."
Galvin is a Foxholm native who left the family farm to his brothers and went to work for Minot stores such as Montgomery Ward, Firestone and Gambles.
"I used to hang around the fire department. I wanted to be a fireman but I was too light and I was too short," he said.
Hoping to recruit young blood at a time when many young men had gone off to war, the fire chief waived the height and weight requirement for Galvin.
Galvin was with the department in 1947 when Minot experienced one of the biggest fires in its history.
"We were sitting down to dinner, and the alarm rang and rang and rang. Before the alarm rang, we felt a thud, like somebody dropped a grand piano upstairs. The older firemen - I could tell by the look on their faces - the minute they heard that thud, they headed for their coats. They knew," Galvin said.
The Westland Oil Co. had gone up in flames. Arriving at the fire, Galvin recalled, "There was a big plume of black smoke and a crowd of people running out of there, and we were running in there. I thought, what are we doing here? I was pretty scared. I would have turned in my resignation right there if I could. Once you get going and you are with these older, experienced people, and they are not excited, you start feeling a little more secure.
"What we were trying to do is sweep that fire, keeping it contained and keeping the liquid gasoline from going down into the storm sewers, which it did anyhow. It set the whole river on fire. So we had a lot of secondary fires."
Galvin was on a high-pressure hose, being helped by off-duty fireman Orton Nelson who was not equipped with his fire uniform.
"These tanks they really didn't explode but they built up so much pressure inside that the whole top would blow out. The contents would go up in the air and it would be half liquid and half flame, but before that happened, you could hear this high-pitched whistling sound. That was time to get the heck out of there so when I heard that, I shut the nozzle off and headed toward the Farmers Union restaurant," he said. "I said to Orton, 'Let's go.' When I turned around and looked, he was looking up at that big plume of flame, and it came down on top of him."
Nelson was one of five people, and the only firefighter, to die in the fire. Galvin suffered minor injury when he cut his arm on broken glass in inserting a hose through a window.
Galvin, who had been in the North Dakota Army National Guard, left the fire department to enter the Air Force in 1950, serving in Hawaii for three years. Upon his discharge, he returned to the department.
Galvin responded to a call in early spring involving two young brothers who had fallen into Puppy Dog Creek. A companion of the boys had run downtown to call for help, but by then, it was too late. Galvin and his brother, Ed, who also was on the department at that time, jumped into the water to recover the bodies.
"It was so cold you couldn't control your own limbs," Galvin said.
Galvin worked for a time in Grand Forks before re-enlisting in the Air Force. Stationed in Michigan, he went to the base barber for a haircut. Quite particular about his hair, he was furious with the way the barber butchered his locks. When told the commander wants cuts done that way, Galvin had a few choice words for the commander, unaware that the barber and the commander were good friends. A week later, Galvin received orders to Baffin Island, next to the Arctic.
His next assignment brought him to the radar base south of Minot, where he accumulated many stories. Galvin also got his start in barbering in the Air Force. Upon his discharge, he attended barber college in Fargo and worked for a time in Minot before moving to Hazen to barber in 1964.
He and his wife, Carol, raised two daughters in Hazen. The Galvins built a cabin near Pick City, which they eventually expanded into what is their full-time lake home today.
Galvin has enjoyed sailing, painting, carving and promoting heritage through his work with a pioneer village in Hazen. He served on the Hazen City Commission and school board and spent 12 years in the North Dakota House of Representatives after his first election in 1994.
Galvin dedicated his book to the Swenson brothers from Carpio, whom he feels never received the credit they deserved as World War II heroes. Capt. Donald Swenson was killed when his plane went down in Italy in 1944. George, a staff sergeant and armored gunner, lost his life in 1943 when his plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea. Gordon, decorated for heroism as a World War II pilot, continued his career in Army aviation after the war.