A Landing a Day

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Wolsey, South Dakota

Posted by graywacke on February 3, 2013

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-time-I-get-around-to-it blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Dan –  Since I got back in the ALAD saddle, I haven’t had one of my good ol’ fashioned High Plains teeny town landing.  Until now, here in . . . SD; 53/50; 4/10; 5; 155.4.

 Here’s my regional landing map:

wolsey landing1

 Here’s closer-in, showing my proximity to Wolsey:

wolsey landing2

Note the tidy one-mile square pattern of roads.  I mean, really – if you’re out there building roads across a flat prairie, and there’s no reason not to . . .

 Although there are no streams in the immediate Wolsey vicinity (as you can see above), I could, using Google Earth’s topographic feature, figure out that the land sloped to the east, towards Stony Run, which is off the map to the east.  By the way, this was my 11th distinct landing watershed with the name “Stone, Stoney or Stony”.  Stony Run runs on to the James R (an amazing 17 hits) to the Missouri (368th hit) to the MM (782nd hit).

 Note how the landing map shows little intermittent ponds all over the place.  I wonder what those are.  Well, let’s take a look at the Google Earth (GE) shot:

 wolsey GE1

I landed in a predictably agricultural setting (maybe pasture land?).  The intermittent ponds just look like the splotchy brown areas.

 I checked out the geological & soil surveys for Beadle County, and figured out that we’re in an upland area underlain by glacial till deposits.  The glaciers were pretty messy about laying down their deposits, and we’ve ended up with irregular topography with small depressions.  The soils are fairly permeable (well-drained), and so these depressions are generally dry.  I bet that’s more information than you needed (or cared about) . . .

Here are a couple of back-in-the-day shots – the first, is the old railroad depot, from the town website:

 wosley old rr depot, town webiste

And this, of Main Street, probably about the same time (from the USGenWeb):

wosley us gen web postcard main st

So, what else about Wolsey?  Well, the town is pretty little (pop 367).  Here’s a GE birds-eye view:

 wolsey GE2

The only thing of real interest is this little tidbit from Wiki, under “Notable Wolsey Residents:”

Richard Warren Sears, founder of Sears, Roebuck, and Co, began his retail sales career by selling unclaimed watches while serving as a station agent for the railroad in Wolsey in the early 1880s.


Here’s some bio info on good ol’ Dick Sears, from the Sears archives:

Richard Warren Sears was born December 7, 1863, in Stewartville, Minn., to James Warren and Eliza Sears.

Although Sears’ father was at one time a fairly prosperous blacksmith and wagon-maker, he lost all of his money—about $50,000—in a failed stock-farm venture. Consequently, at a young age, Richard Sears found it necessary to work in order to help support the family. After learning telegraphy, he was employed by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad and eventually became a station agent at North Redwood, Minn.

Note:  this bio says nothing about Wolsey SD.  Oh, well.  I’m going to let Wiki pick up the story here (they included some interesting details):

It was in 1886 at age 23, that his career path changed forever: A shipment of gold-filled pocket watches from a Chicago manufacturer was refused by a Minnesota retailer, Edward Stegerson.

A common scam existing at the time involved wholesalers who would ship their products to retailers who had not ordered them. Upon refusal, the wholesaler would offer the already price-hiked items to the retailer at a lower price in the guise of alleviating the cost to ship the items back. The unsuspecting retailer might then agree to take this new-found “bargain” off the wholesaler’s hands.

But Stegerson, a retailer savvy to the scam, flatly refused the watches. Young Sears jumped at the opportunity, and made an agreement with the wholesaler to buy the watches for $12.  He then set about offering his wares to other station agents along the railroad line for $14. Sears acted as a “middle man,” because the other station agents actually sold the watches to passers-by.

The watches were considered an item of urban sophistication. Also because of the growth of railways, and the recent application of time zones, farmers needed to keep time accurately which had not been necessary until then. For those two reasons the station agents had no trouble selling the watches to passers-by.

Within six months, Sears had netted $5,000 and felt so confident in this venture that he moved to Minneapolis and founded the R. W. Sears Watch Company. He began placing advertisements in farm publications and mailing flyers to potential clients. From the beginning, it was clear that Sears had a talent for writing promotional copy. He took the personal approach in his ads, speaking directly to rural and small-town communities, persuading them to purchase by mail-order.

In 1887 Sears moved his company to Chicago and moved his residence to nearby Oak Park, Illinois.

[Hey – I used to live in Oak Park, and never knew Sears lived there.]

In 1887 he also hired watch repairman Alvah Roebuck to repair any watches being returned.

Roebuck was Sears’s first employee, and he later became co-founder of Sears, Roebuck & Company, which was formed in 1893 when Sears was 30 years old. Roebuck left the growing company a few years later, and Sears went on with a new business partner, clothier Julius Rosenwald, who became president of the business in 1908 upon Sears’ retirement at age 44.

The first Sears catalog was published in 1893 and offered only watches. By 1897, the 500-page cataglog include items such as men’s and ladies clothing, plows, housewares, bicycles and athletic equipment.

How about that Roebuck?  A watch repairman who only hung around for a few years.  No wonder they eventually dropped his name . . .

Here’s a quote from Mr. Sears:

“If you buy a good watch you will always be satisfied, and at our prices a good watch will influence the sale of another good watch; and that’s our motto: “Make a Good Watch,  Sell a Good Watch.” (1892)

True confession:  the quote (lifted from the Sears history archive website) said “Make a Watch, Sell a Watch.”  AYKM?  (OK, that means “Are You Kidding Me?”)  That’s a lousy motto without the “goods.”  In my not-so-humble opinion, my version is vastly improved!

I’ll close with this country side shot, taken some miles south of my landing (Panoramio, by fred089):

 wolsey fred089


That’ll do it.




© 2013 A Landing A Day

3 Responses to “Wolsey, South Dakota”

  1. Excellent piece on my home town! 🙂

  2. Valerie Joy said

    I would love to share the history of Sears here in Wolsey. I have a more complete story. He would never claim Wolsey after he left to go back to Minnesota. Thanks.

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