Being located almost literally in the middle of nowhere, this little town on the plains has been spared some of the crass intrusions of modern American life.
If a Langdonite were seized with a Bic Mac Attack, he would have to race 114 miles to the nearest McDonald's
Hustler magazine appeared briefly on the town's newstand a few years back, but it is not seen here anymore.
There are no industrial smoke-stacks, and too few cars to cause traffic noise or smog; in the utter silence of Dakota night, hundreds of thousands of stars never seen by the city dweller beam down brightly from the unpolluted firmament.
"We're far from resources, and farther from markets," says Duane Otto, manager of the local electric cooperative. "We've always been pretty happy about it. 'The distance keeps the riff-raff out' is an expression you used to hear a lot around here."
Langdon's happy isolation ended in 1970, when the U.S. Army picked a grain field south of town for its first Safeguard Antiballistic Missile (ABM) installation. Overnight Langdon experienced a population and business explosion. Then, six years and $5.5 billion later, the bubble abruptly burst: the Safeguard system was shut down, a victim of detente and congressional disfavor.
Now, one year after the missile site was officially deactivated, Langdon and the surrounding communities are aliver and doing remarkably well despite the twin shock of quick boom and sudden bust.
The people's friendly, trusting way of life appears to have survived intact. There have been economic dificulties, particularly among retailers, but the region's innate conservatism and some shrewd arrangements by officials have cushioned the effect.
On paper, the ABM's impact would seem devastating.
Langdon's population mushroomed from 2,300 in 1970 to 4,500 five years later; today it is back down to about 2,800. In Nekoma, the hamlet nearest the missile site, population leaped from 84 in 1970 to 450 by 1975; the current figure is 125.
School populations doubled in three years, held steady for two, and then dropped by 40 per cent in 1976.
About 15 new businesses came to Langdon when the ABM arrived, and some older ones expanded. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that business activity has been cut $30 million annually with the loss of the missile site. At the same time, the price of the area's chief cash crop, durum (the grain from which apaghetti is made), has hit a four-year low.
Yet no one here even mentions the word "disaster," and most of the locals say the area will pull through with little difficulty.
"Maybe I can kind of sum up the attitude," said Herb Paulson, president of one of Langdon's two banks. "Ain't no reason to push the panic button just because the government threw you down a rathole."
Since 1965, the Air Force has planted large numbers of Minuteman ICBM missiles beneath the plains around Langdon. "If Cavalier County were to secede from the union," boasts Hal Doherty, the local newspaper publisher, "it would be the world's third greatest nuclear power."
But the ABM was different.
"We were apprehensive when they announced the project," says John McFarland, Langdon's amiable young mayor. "It was more concentrated, in money and people, than any of the other projects. We were worried whether this good life we had here would be hurt."
Life in Langdon is quiet, unhurried, uneventful: downright dull by urban standards. It is also conspicuously free of the big city's fear and loneliness.
People here still turn out for community barn-raisings. They walk right into the mayor's unlocked house to complain about local problems. On the main street, late model cars and trucks filled with farm gear are left idling while their owners shop or grab lunch in a cafe.
But the first wave of "missile people," as the locals called the newcomers, seemed to threaten all that.
"They were construction workers, here without their families," says Greg Lacy, the night duty man on Langdon's five-member police force. "Every night you could trust them to drink some and have a fight or something."
When the construction crews left and missile technicians moved in, people here say, langdon went back to normal. "I wasn't writing citations all the time after that," Lacy says. "The missile people fit into our life pretty nice."
The influx of people required major expansion projects. To assure that they would not be stuck with the bill, local leaders became experts on Washington's "impacted-area" programs. Even today farmers here can hitch up their jeans and talk with easy assurance about "our Hill-Burton grant" or "the Young-Mansfield money we got."
What couldn't be charged to the government was passed on to the ABM's two prime contractors, Morrison-Knudsen and Boeing.
"When we ran our lines out to the sites," says Mayor McFarlane, who manages the private Otter Tail Power Co., "we made the contractors sign long-term contracts with us. We had a little trouble collecting when they left, but they're still paying on those contracts now. So our old customers won't have to pay for the expansion."
In all, Langdon and Nekoma got about $7 million worth of improvements, including new parks, classrooms, water systems, fire trucks, a hospital wing and the first paved street in Nekoma's history.
The two towns paid about $760,000 of their own money for all of that, and they still hope to recover some of that outlay from the federal and state governments.
But there was inevitably some economic impact. Maintenance costs on the hospital addition have added about $6 to the daily room charge. The local electric cooperative, serving mainly residential, rather than business, customers, was left with a good deal of useless plant. "There's going to have to be a rate increase sometime," says manager Otto.
The school systems had just grown accustomed to their new student load when the classrooms began to empty. Langdon high school has fired 10 of its 30 teachers, and some new courses such as German and astronomy, have been eliminated since the "missile kids" left town.
The major burden has fallen on the retailers clustered around Langdon's four-block "downtown." January sales for the local J.C. Penney were off 17 per cent from 1976 volume, and other businesses cite similar declines.
"I said I'd make it here or die trying," moans Diane Geisen, the nervous, angry propietor of Langdon's "Hobby Mart." "Now it looks like I might just die.
"I opened this store because the missile people had a lot of time for hobbies and stuff," Geisen says. "For a while I did fine, but now - the farmers don't buy much here. Every day I'm selling less. If I lose this place, I lose everything I've got."
Ray Marchell, vice president of the First Bank of Langdon, says about three retailers have closed shop in town in the past year, although he won't attribute the failures directly to the ABM termination.
"On the whole, our businesses have gotten along fairly well," Marchell says. "Basically, we're pretty conservative, so not many of them had gone in over their heads on expansion when the base came."
Russ Schroeder, who runs a carpet and furniture store, says, "For some reason I haven't figured out yet, my sales were up $11,000 in December over December, '75."
State and local officials hope to beef up the economy further by finding a tenant for the ghost town that stands at the abandoned missile site.
Rising from the snowy plains near Nekoma is a massive concrete structure - it looks like the Washington Monument sawed off at 100 feet - that housed the Safeguard's radar guidance system.
In that pyramid's shadow stand a furnished office building, a four-story apartment complex, a gym equipped with squash courts and sauna, and a complete subdivision boasting paved streets, parks chock full of playground apparatus and 197 neat, freshly painted and empty houses.
So far, no one has found a taker for the installation, but government officials haven't given up. "It's too goldarned much to lose," says Herbert J. Mack, of the state planning council."We're going to find something to put in there."
Some Langdonites would be just as happy, though, if the abandoned missile site remained abandoned.
"We had a real sweet little town here," says Shcroeder, the furniture salesman. "Quality life all the way. We all got a few years of plus business out of this missile thing, and now we ought to be happy to go back to what we had."