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In Murdo, they don’t call it hospitality row for nothing

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Our Towns is a feature of the Monday Argus Leader
By Terry Woster
Argus Leader Staff

Murdo- Murdo folks know their future depends in part on tourism, so they like to see travelers roll off Interstate 90. But if a recent visitor from Iowa comes again, there’ll be no welcoming smiles.

The traveler apparently drove through Murdo one hot day this summer and went home to Doon Iowa, to publish his impressions in the Doon Press. The column criticized Jones County for poor sidewalks, gravel streets, dry lawns and “a variety of wood clapboard churches that show better times.” The town owes its life to its county seat, I-90 and the antique car museum, the writer said.

“Folks around town ere pretty upset,” said Jackie Nies, who graduated form Murdo High in 1962, several years before a state mandated reorganization of education made the town the hub of a consolidated Jones County High. “There wasn't’t much call to run us down. There are a lot of nice people here. They didn't’t like making it sound like we’re nothing.”

The Iowa writer’s impressions were far different from those of the Murdo Coyote in May 1906, when the town was formed. The paper wrote, “We have an ideal location for a town, good surrounding territory well-settled by progressive people. In fact, we have all the requirements for a flourishing city.”

Among those angered by the Doon Press Column was Carole Railsback, who wrote an answering letter saying the town’s five churches are brick, and there are trees, flowers and clean streets.

“You stated you were glad you didn't’t live here,” she said. “With your depressive attitude, I’m glad you don’t, either.”

If the Iowa visitor was wrong about churches and streets, he was right about the way Murdo depends on the interstate highway and the Pioneer Auto Museum. The town, named for Texas cattle baron Murdo MacKenzie, has a dozen eating places, tow I-90 exits of its own, and 10 motels including a Super 8 that opened last season and filled every evening just like the rest of the inns.

“We get a lot of business from the museum,” said Super 8 manager Keith Wesseling. “It doesn't’t hurt that we’re kind of halfway between a lot of places, either. Murdo’s been a traditional stop, long before the interstate.”

Indeed it has been. Generations of South Dakotans remember family trips to the Black Hills on old Highway 16. At Murdo-where your watches turned back an hour to Mountain Standard Time- motels, cafes and restaurants lined both sides of the highway.

The interstate move the main flow of traffic a couple of blocks south, but the strip of motels and cafes, now called hospitality row, remains active.

At the top of hospitality row is what some locals call the WFPAM-the World Famous Pioneer Auto Museum. It includes more than 30 rooms of antique and classic cars and draws hundreds of visitors a day during the travel season.

One of the top attractions at the museum is a 1976 Harley Davidson Electra-Glide motorcycle once owned by Elvis Presley. It’s a black machine with highlights in robins egg blue. The gleaming chrome looks as if it could weigh almost half of the bike’s 800 pounds.

Although Presley died more than 10 years ago, rumors persist that he faked the death and is hiding out. He’s been sighted from one end of the country to the other.

No one in Murdo has claimed to have seen Elvis yet, but his Harley looks ready to ride and, as museum worker Doris Chambliss says, “An awful lot of people come through here every day.”

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