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Remembering Peter Fonda

Oliver Skinningsrud: 'It was a privilege to know him'

MDN File Photo Oliver “Ole” Skinningsrud, left, of Berthold is shown with actor Peter Fonda in 1990 when Fonda sold his 1929 Model A Roadster pickup to Skinningsrud.Fonda, who died last week, became friends with Skinningsrud and others during visits to this area.

BERTHOLD – Oliver “Ole” Skinningsrud of Berthold changed the oil in his 1929 Model A Roadster pickup and greased it a bit. Then on Monday, he took a drive in the pickup to Berthold where he was invited for coffee and pie.

“It run like a top,” said Skinningsrud.

The pickup has a special story to it. Before Skinningsrud, actor Peter Fonda owned it. Fonda died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles.

Fonda came to North Dakota for a motorcycle rally at the Skinningsrud farm near Berthold where he got to know Ole and his brother, Paul Skinningsrud, and others.

Jerald Burtman, a local pilot, flew to Livingston, Mont., to pick up Fonda to bring him to North Dakota for the event, Skinningsrud said.

In spring 1990, Fonda was invited as a special guest to the MDA motorcycle fundraiser that was organized by the late Dick Widme, then the local Harley-Davidson dealer.

Fonda, who took an instant liking to the two brothers and saw they had a nice collection of older cars and trucks, told them he had a ’29 Model A Roadster pickup at his ranch near Livingston.

“He bought the pickup from someone he knew at Universal Studios,” Ole Skinningsrud said.

When Fonda arrived for the motorcycle fundraiser, Paul and Ole Skinningsrud arranged with Homesteaders Restaurant for a small get-together. A group of about 15 motorcycle riders gathered around a long table with Fonda to visit. The restaurant treated them with a dessert.

Paul Skinningsrud passed away in October 1990. When Fonda learned of his death, he went to a great effort to get his Model A to Ole Skinningsrud.

“He said he hoped it would cheer me up,” Skinningsrud said.

Fonda loaded the pickup on a trailer pulled by his Suburban and headed for the Skinningsrud farm near Berthold.

After his arrival, the next day a small gathering was held at the farm with Don and Glenda Burtman from Wildrose. Glenda brought freshly made buns. Nick Poleshook from Max brought his accordion and neighbor Stanley Vangsness brought his guitar. Fonda had a guitar. Widme and a few others also arrived.

“They played music and played pool,” Skinningsrud said.

After that, Skinningsrud said he and Fonda occasionally called back and forth to visit.

A few years after Fonda’s visits to the Skinningsrud farm, Fonda called to tell Skinningsrud he was in a movie (“Wooly Boys”) with Kris Kristofferson in the North Dakota Badlands. He invited Skinningsrud to visit him there.

On the morning of the trip to the Badlands, Skinningsrud and Sam Norgard of Hartland, who Skinningsrud invited along on the trip, climbed into Skinningsrud’s pickup and drove to the Badlands.

“Wooly Boys,” a movie about a sheep rancher who reconnects with his big-city grandson, was filmed in and around Medora.

In Medora they happened to connect with the actor (Keith Carradine) who played the sheriff in the movie who was on his way out to the filming site and told them to follow him in his pickup.

But when they got to the filming site they couldn’t get close. A security person was keeping traffic out of the area. Skinningsrud identified himself to the security person and told him Fonda had invited him there. When the security person got Fonda on the phone, they could hear Fonda, in a loud voice, tell the security person to send Skinningsrud to the filming site.

They followed Carradine. Skinningsrud said he remembers Carradine drove fast, but they kept up with him and arrived at the site.

“Peter came out of a building, saw Sam and I and gave us a big bear hug,” Skinningsrud said.

They stayed for about an hour to watch how the movie was being made and then headed home.

“He was a very good guy,” said Skinningsrud. “I think it was a privilege to know him.”

On Sunday, Skinningsrud will be taking his 1929 Model A Roadster pickup on another drive, this time the plan is to the Lutheran church in Carpio. He has invited Burtman along on the drive. They will likely talk about Fonda and their visits with him during his trips to North Dakota.

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