Monday, August 26, 2013

Entrepreneurial Musings from the “Great American Road Trip”!

A few weeks ago, I managed to convince my family to hop into a rented RV and head off on the "Great American Road Trip" (or “GART,” as we called it) to the Black Hills. I realize that for many this may conjure visions of Clark Griswold's "sports wagon" or Robin Williams hanging out with the Gornickes in “RV.” For a guy like me who spends his days working with entrepreneurs, in addition to those allusions, it also made me think about a couple of pioneering entrepreneurs:

The face on the front of Mount Rushmore—"America's First Entrepreneur," George Washington. Did you know that Washington, who wasn’t as wealthy as many of the other founding fathers of our nation, was able to transform Mount Vernon from a quaint tobacco town into an industrial village producing flour and whiskey? 

I guess you can’t travel to Mount Rushmore without thinking about sculptor Gutzon Borglum.  Like many entrepreneurs, he wasn't always viewed favorably; that said, his dogged determination (and ability to raise capital from industry leaders and the federal government) made his dream a reality.

Lester “Si” and Ruth Pullen, who purchased a hole in the ground in the 1950s and transformed it into Rushmore Cave, a fun tourist destination that today sports not only cave tours, but a zip line, gemstone mining, and even a “7D Interactive Ride.”

One of the more interesting entrepreneurial success stories I learned about in our travel was that of Harold Schafer.  In 1942, Schafer founded the Gold Seal Company (famous for many products, including Mr. Bubble, Glass Wax, and Snowy Bleach), which was North Dakota’s largest home owned business before it was sold to Airwick Industries in 1986. 

Most relevant to our trip, Schafer was responsible for leading the restoration and development of Medora, one of North Dakota’s leading tourist destinations. On a beautiful July evening, we were fortunate to experience the "Pitchfork Fondue" and see a performance of the “Medora Musical” (which is more of a variety show than a musical, but not bad for the middle of North Dakota…). Schafer’s entrepreneurship and vision led Medora to become the vibrant tourist attraction that it is.

If you know your geography, you may be wondering how my GART to the Black Hills ended up in Western North Dakota.  Fortunately, thanks to the persuasive skills of my colleague (and fellow entreVIEW author), Kermit Nash (unabashedly, a native North Dakotan), we took a northern route through North Dakota back from our travels. It didn’t hurt that we were also able to stop and spend an afternoon with some close friends near Alexandria on the way back home. We even were able to experience, first hand, the world’s largest (i) scrap metal sculpture, (ii) Holstein cow, (iii) buffalo—see photo above, (iv) sand hill crane, and (v) prairie chicken.

I guess all of this proves that there’s hope for entrepreneurs. If you’ve got the vision and drive, you can create something out of nothing—even a destination attraction in the middle of nowhere (anyone else been to the Corn Palace or Wall Drug?)


  1. I like the play on words - If you've got the vision and "drive" - that's a lot of what RVing is about - "driving". Looks like you had a great time, and I appreciated the perspective of the entrepreneur in North and South Dakota. I'm glad your trip was more successful than that of Robin Williams.

  2. There was plenty of driving for sure. But the ability to "shift on the fly" and return through North Dakota (and no encounters with the Gornickes along the way) made it that much more fun. We're probably not in the market for an RV but I'm guessing it won't be my last time behind the wheel of one...

  3. Great post Dan!! Loved all the fun (and informative) links. Thanks!

  4. Appreciate the positive feedback, Scott. I've also gotten lots of direct positive comments from contacts of mine on this post so I'm guessing the "Great American Road Trip" is something that many folks have at least contemplated!